Friday, December 23, 2011

Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra

This is the first year in the history of my life when there will be not be a single relative who lives outside of my house celebrating Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with me.  Nada.  No One.  Zilch.  No invitations were extended our way, and none from us were accepted. I'm not expecting the "We love you so much and hate that we can't see you this year" phone calls either.  They won't come.  They never have. Don't feel sorry for me, though.  I'm looking at this Christmas with a new set of priorities.  I'm considering it a gift, really.  It's the gift that keeps on giving because this is the year that I have decided to finally let go.

I have always been jealous of your Christmas.  I was jealous because your house is full of bear hugs for relatives you've missed all year.  I was jealous of how you linger at the table over coffee while reminiscing about the days when polyester pant suits and bee hive hairdo's were all the rage.  I was jealous of how your heart swells when you look around your crowded, messy house and close your eyes for that brief moment while thanking the powers that be for your blessings.  Most of all, I was jealous that in your family, gathering at Christmas is a time-honored tradition that no one wants to miss.

That all changed a few months ago, though.  On a blistering summer afternoon, I found my car pulling into the graveyard where my parents are buried.  I never go there.  Cemeteries are dreadful places that bring me no peace.  However, as I stood there staring at the names of my Mama and Daddy etched into that stone, I had an epiphany.  It was time to move forward because the years are never guaranteed.  I have always said that you don't have to like to the people you're related to, but now it is time to cut them loose.  I know my mom would hate that our family is irrevocably broken, but deep in her heart she would understand why.  You shouldn't have to beg for love...and I won't any more.

So, this Christmas as families are loading up their plates with turkey and trimmings, washing down their pumpkin pie with egg nog, and laughing with delight at a bounty of gifts, I will be thankful that there are at least a handful of people who truly love me and want me around.  These are folks who don't need me to beg and cajole for attention and companionship.  This is MY family, MY people, the four of us, and to hell with the rest of the self-absorbed world.  We're making a new tradition this year, taking a cue from Ralphie and the Parker's from "A Christmas Story".  We'll dress in our Sunday best and head out for Chinese food this year.  I finally realized that with my real family at my side, who needs a sweet potato casserole served with tension and drama when you can have peace in your heart and lo mein noodles.

And...if we're lucky...maybe they will serenade us, too.  Fa, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To all the cheerleaders I've hated before...


I hate ‘em. Oops! Did I say that out loud? Even at forty-three, I still hold a grudge against these perky Pep Squad types. I know it isn’t healthy. I know I should just move on with my life and forget that I never got to wear one of those short, pleated skirts and bounce around in front of the cute boys with a color-coordinated bow in my hair. I’m refusing to acknowledge the memory of not being popular and not being picked for the Homecoming Court. It’s fine because I didn’t grow up to be a brooding blogger who spills the details of her previously blacked-out teenage years to the world, right? RIGHT.

My disdain for those bubbly Barbie Dolls of the cheer team began before I even graduated from elementary school over a seemingly benign detail of their outfit: the Saddle Oxford shoe.

Oh, how I loved those black and white Saddle Oxfords! I couldn’t have a pair, though. The reason escapes me now, but they were probably too expensive or maybe not practical enough to wear with everything I owned. I remember only having church shoes, sneakers, and a pair of God-awful, high-top Hushpuppies that made me feel like Grizzly Adams in drag. (God bless 1975!) I coveted those awesome shoes and the green and white uniforms the girls wore as they cheered on the Dragons to victory. The tiny seed of jealously was starting to blossom.

Once I made it to junior high school, it became painfully obvious that an indisputable pecking order was in place:

1. Cheerleaders and Football Players
2. Everyone Else

Since it has never been in my nature to kiss ass to win friends, I did what I had to do to survive being in the nameless rabble of Nobodies: I began a private, deeply personal hate campaign against the Pom-Pom Queens. I kept my seething disdain to myself, skewering them mercilessly in my diary:

“Kevin asked Patty to go steady with him today. I’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she makes sure he gets a full view of her butt every time she twirls around at the Pep Rally.”

“I just LOVE how Karen sits Indian-style every time she wears her cheer outfit. Joe and Mike have been waiting ALL DAY to see her panties. Slut.”

“I hope Alicia gets her period when they wear their white skirts to the basketball game.”

As we made the transition to high school, I carried high hopes that the comradery of joining the marching band would ease my pain of being a bashful wallflower. Oh, how wrong I was. It was during those angst-filled years that I discovered how a girl with a short skirt and a big attitude was much preferred to one carrying a saxophone case and a heavy bag of text books. I felt like a Velma who was always in the shadow of a Daphne in the Scooby Doo episode of life. The final straw came in my senior year as the boy whom I believed to be my soul mate unceremoniously dumped me for barrel chested cheerleader with size two waist. I never got over it.

Even though I didn’t get to be the shining star at the top of the cheerleading pyramid, I did just fine as a mostly invisible adult in the corporate world. Honestly, the only cheering heard on the office cube farm is when a power outage forces the place to close early or when a record sales year translates into a bigger Christmas bonus, and that’s fine with me. Yes, I was floating along just fine on a sea of repressed memories until two months ago…when I signed up my daughter for cheerleading.

Dear friends, my daughter is now a cheerleader. (Deep breaths, Lynda. Deep breaths.) My sweet, caring, loving, daughter is now happily engaged in the one activity that I spent most of my life bashing. She backed me into a corner, and as I looked into her big, hazel eyes, I knew I couldn't refuse her this chance at fun just because some shrill harpie in stirrup pants and jelly shoes broke my spirit twenty-five years ago. I keep telling myself it's good exercise.  I have convinced myself that she is winning one for Team Nerd, of which I am the Captain. She has shown me that nice girls and even – dare I say it – smart girls know their way around some pom-poms and a basketball court.

For as much as I hate to admit it, I have also realized that swallowing crow is much easier when chased with a big cup of Maybe-I-Was-Wrong. So, this is my new cheer:

Give me a     K!

Give me an   A!

Give me an   R!

Give me an  M!

Give me an  A!

What does that spell?

Oh, shut the hell up…I get it…

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To infinity and beyond!

 When my son was a toddler, he developed an obsession with stuffed animals. I don’t mean he was partial to Teddy Bears. I’m talking about a full-blown hoarding of every obscure plush critter he could dream of with his pre-school mind. I searched the internet for just the right stuffed owl or that hawk-billed sea turtle who could spout off facts about its eating habits. He had lemurs, rabbits, penguins, and every variety of cat and dog I could get my hands on via the World Wide Web. He would separate them out on the floor of the den and offer tours of his imaginary zoo. He took great care and pride in this stuffed menagerie, so much in fact, that he even had his picture made at three years of age with his favorite toy beagle, Buddy.

We were socking money away for veterinary school, sure that this would be his lot in life. I encouraged this love of animals because – honestly – I thought it was precious. He named them and although he never slept with them or needed them for comfort, you could always tell which he was partial to on any given day by the creature that held the place of honor on his bed. He eventually became so enamored of his stuffed dachshunds that we caved and got him the real thing. (Stupid, stupid, stupid parents)

However, little boys grow into big boys, and his interest in the animals waned. His attention turned to creating the ultimate Lego world and shooting his little sister with his arsenal of Nerf guns. The animals found a new home in a couple of large toy boxes tucked away in a hall closet. Each time we would have an “Oh-my-gosh-get-this-house-cleaned-from-top-to-bottom” kind of day, I would beg him to part with some of the animals. “We’ll donate them to Goodwill so that another little boy can enjoy them,” I would plead. He wasn’t having it. Even though he wouldn’t admit it, they were a part of him. In his mind, how could any other kid take proper care of Sheldon, the penguin in a lumberjack suit? Even though he never played with them any more, he would rather have the whole lot of them squished in a dark toy box than have someone else touch them with hands that might be sticky.

On a recent dreary Sunday afternoon, my son came to me and said, “Well, I’m going to bite the bullet and throw out everything today.” He seemed serious this time. Although I was skeptical, I thought maybe his middle school brain was ready to part with the toys he associated with his little boy life. I agreed to help him, so we pulled out the boxes and started making piles. He decided that he should probably keep a few of the animals – the rhinoceros he got as a gift from his Dad on the day he was born and the Beanie Baby Pterodactyl that shares his exact birthday and year. This was really happening. I might just get another shoe closet!  (Yay, me!) We reminisced over the toys, remembering which dog was the brother of which, and how he came up with this name or that. The Goodwill pile grew larger with only a few lucky critters getting a pass to stay with us.

Then, it happened.  It was our “Toy Story 3” moment.  If you've seen it, then you know what I mean, and if you haven't, you'll understand any way.  It's the moment when reality hits a teenager and he finally understands that his childhood buddies, these seemingly unimportant toys, aren’t going to be in the house forever, and neither is he. In the movie, the boy - who starts off as a little kid in the original “Toy Story” - is leaving for college and has to decide what to do with his favorite toys: Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the rest of the beloved gang. It was painful and poignant to watch, and I haven’t come so close to crying at a kid’s movie since “Bambi”. 

About an hour after we finished sorting the animals, my son came to me and gently said, “Maybe we should just keep them here for now. You know, we could put the boxes in the garage and get rid of them later.” He didn’t need to say another word. I quickly replied, “That sounds like a great idea to me.” I knew that for as much as I want my children to grow into independent young adults, there will always be a part of me that wants to keep them close to my side forever.  I didn't want to get rid of those toys any more than he did.

We carefully packed all of the precious cargo into airtight containers and put them safely into a corner of the garage without another word spoken. We didn’t have to…we both realized that those toys, sweet symbols of a little boy’s first years in this world, will always live in his heart…to infinity and beyond.

Friday, November 18, 2011

They're all Harper Valley Hypocrites...

 I have a confession to make: My son is now in middle school, and I have never once in my life been to a PTA meeting. You may think this is no big deal, especially if you don’t have kids, but in the cut-throat, mom-eat-mom world of Elementary School Mothering, not attending this hallowed monthly meeting is an abomination against good parenting. I should just go ahead and smear black tar heroin all over a double fudge Pop-Tart and serve it to my kids for breakfast with a shot of Patron on the side. Yeah, some people think it’s that bad, but before you start the proceedings to have me declared an unfit mother, please allow me to plead my case. I have completely legitimate reasons for being an Absentee School Mom.
Before I became a mother, I thought I scored fairly high on the Decent Human Being scale. I was gainfully employed and good at my job. I kept myself in shape and made good food choices at every meal. My house was clean, and my yard looked nice, and my bills were all paid on time, and I regularly donated to charities. I sailed through life with not a care in the world more pressing than where to eat out every weekend and whether or not Nirvana was the greatest band in the history of rock. (Probably) What’s not to like…or so it seemed. My calm, cool exterior hid the fact that I was a mostly crazy, OCD-suffering control freak who hates to talk to other humans. That was my business, though, not the world's, and I planned to keep it that way.

 Then, alas, my children were born.

When you step out of your house with a child in tow, the door to your personal life is flung wide open, and complete strangers feel compelled to bestow their advice and admonitions on you at will. There is no hiding that you aren't perfect and were running late because the strained carrot proof is still smeared across your baby’s face. It’s obvious that you are a poor planner because you find yourself at the mall with a baby who is sitting in a toxic diaper and only an empty box of butt wipes in your bag. Don’t even get me started on the comments you get when the Lactation Nazi at the hospital catches wind of the fact that you have decided to give your child formula instead of breast milk. Horrors! Don’t you know that by drinking formula your child will grow up to be a maladjusted, undernourished, slacker who catches every virus wafting through the air at the mall where he half-ass works as a clerk at the comic book kiosk? (This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from “Raising Arizona” when Holly Hunter’s character was asked, “Why ain’t you breastfeedin’? You appear capable.”)
As babies grow into toddlers, the pressure to have an advanced child is palpable. The Stepford Moms will brag that their precious darling was walking by seven months of age and speaking Mandarin Chinese fluently at two. You need to be in the “right” pre-school, or your child may not master at four years of age everything they are supposed to learn in kindergarten. Since my son was cared for by my late mother instead of being schooled properly, I was already a few steps behind in the “My Kid Is Smarter Than Your Kid” game. Gee, I guess I should have been ashamed of myself for not teaching my child to write in cursive before his fifth birthday, but on the day I was going to review that, he was playing with trains, so I cut the little man some slack.

It only took chaperoning one field trip early in my son's first year in public school for me to realize I was in over my head with the other moms. It was high school all over again, and I was still the dork. They were all Junior Welfare League fundraising-types, and I know...Not. When they encouraged parents to join their club aka the PTA but held meetings during the mid-morning hours, I took that as a sign that they were trying to keep out the working mother riff raff. When these same moms were more than happy to accept my meager cupcakes for their school activities but wouldn't acknowledge my existence outside of the school cafeteria, I took it personally. When did I become one of the dregs of society? For your information, MY kid isn't the one eating paste or peeing on the rug during circle time. Just because you are in a higher tax bracket than I am and have a flair for being the Drill Sargeant of the Book Fair doesn't mean you get to treat me like the hired help.

So, I wrote off the whole lot of them. I swore that as a bona fide grown up, I didn't have to suck up to group of clique-ish women in cashmere sweaters. I want to tell some of these memers that the PTA isn't a sorority of adulthood. Yes, I will help my child's teacher if the need is there, and I am more than happy to donate my time or resources in the name of furthering my child's education, but I jumped off that Social Ladder the day I donned my cap and gown, and even though we're at a different school now, I refuse to join because I have a gold medal in grudge holding.

Sadly, I never had the cojones to stand up to those women back then, but this was the anthem that played in my way of socking it to 'em... (click here)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Goalkeeper's Mom

I have always been not-so-secretly glad that my son was never interested in sports. Although I hated the idea of spending my free time sitting on bleachers under the scorching-hot South Carolina sun while watching a game I neither cared for nor understood, I still felt obligated to goad him into a team activity. We fulfilled our parental duty by giving him a football, a soccer ball, a baseball and bat, but the child had zero interest in working up a sweat. Every offer at joining insert-name-of-league-here was met with a resounding, "No!"   When he was old enough to truly communicate his feelings about playing a sport, he put it very succinctly: “Mommy, I don’t want to play the game. I want to be the person who tells everyone else what to do.”  As a lifelong control freak, I have to say that his sentiment warmed my heart.

I became the Anti-Soccer Mom, relishing the fact that I didn’t drive a minivan, and I didn’t spend my weekends traveling to tournaments, and I didn’t have to arrange my life around practices and games. Honestly, though, there was always a little voice in the back of my mind that wanted my son to be a sports star. Who doesn’t? We all know that whether we like it or not, athleticism is favored over intelligence in our public schools. Sure, my son gets all A’s in advanced courses, but can he hit a homerun? He picked up German as if he had been plucked from the streets of Berlin, but if he has never scored a touchdown, then who really cares? I assured him that his hero, Apple founder Steve Jobs, was probably never the quarterback and star of the football team, but I think I was reassuring myself instead of my son.

At the end of fifth grade, he became friends with a few boys who were on a high-level, traveling soccer team, and, unbeknownst to me, he starting kicking the ball around with the kids at school. As the year was ending and we were preparing for the big jump to middle school hell, he came to me one night and said, “Mama…I really want to play soccer.”  In one of my less-than-stellar- moments as a parent I replied, “Oh, no. You aren’t serious, are you? Don’t you think it’s too late to start?”  I know it was wrong, but I desperately tried to talk him out of it.

Losing the battle, I reluctantly signed him up for a fall soccer league. While he spent the summer practicing diligently in our backyard, I spent the summer trying to gently (or not so gently) remind him that he had never played organized sports before, so he shouldn’t expect to be very good at it. I explained to him over and over that the kids he would be playing against have years of experience on him. What I saw as setting him up so that he wouldn’t be disappointed if he didn’t set the world on fire, HE saw as a complete lack of faith in his ability on my part. He said, “You’re telling me I’m a terrible player before I’ve even had the chance to prove that I can do it.”  I’m ashamed to admit it, but he was right.

The season started, and my son volunteered to be the goal keeper for the team. Due to scheduling conflicts with my daughter’s activities, his father took him to practices and the first two games. My husband kept telling me how great he was doing, but that’s what Dads are supposed to say, right? I took it with a grain of salt until the night they came home and my husband said, “The coach thinks he’s really good and that he has the potential to be a great keeper.” Really? My bookworm who used to spend his time building Lego cities and studying the road atlas? Hmmm...I would need to see this to believe it.

The first time I saw him play, I was so nervous for him that I could barely watch the game. Why was he so calm? Did he not feel the pressure of defending that goal against a field full of kids whose objective it was to get the ball around him? As he stopped every attempt from the other team to score, I started to realize that this child, MY son, has talent that isn’t related to algebra. The kid can play!

Their team went undefeated for the season. As we were walking off the field after their last game, another parent came up to us and said, “Is the keeper your son? He did a great job! He saved the game for us more times than I can count!”  I looked over at my son, and he was beaming.

The coach took the kids out for ice cream sundaes to celebrate a great season. I watched my son laugh and joke about blind referees and exciting victories with these boys and girls he had bonded with over the last few months. It was then that I realized how my self-doubts are my own, and that my children don’t share my glass-is-half-empty view of the world. That night in the chilly glow of the Dairy Queen lights, I realized what I should have known all along: My son rocks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fright Night

 With autumn's chilly wind blowing outside of my window, forcing the nearly-bare trees to scrape against the house like skeleton fingers across a chalkboard and only the glow of my computer monitor to light the room, it seems to be the perfect night to share a frightening tale of how my sister and a murderous maniac in a hockey mask scarred me for life.  Okay, okay, I don't really blame my sister for the traumatic event that unfolded the summer of my eleventh year, but she was at least the enabler for the murderous maniac.

It was a dark and stormy night.  Well, not really, but that would have been so perfect...

 It was actually a hot summer day during the sweltering month of June, 1980.  I had just finished  sixth grade, and I was looking forward to spending my extended vacation avoiding the sun by watching "All My Children," "One Life to Live," and "General Hospital" every afternoon and chasing after the pesticide spray truck every evening.  This year was a little different, though.  My mom was sending me off to a sleep-away camp for the first time.  I was never an adventurous kid, but my best friend would be in my cabin, so I hoped to keep my homesickness at bay with a familiar face.

The week before my departure for camp, my older sister stopped by for a visit, and, sensing my utter and complete boredom, she asked if I would like to go to a matinee showing of a new movie that was was recently released.  Are you kidding me?  Is Susan Lucci actually a vampire who sucks the blood of young, ambitious ingenues to keep herself beautiful forever?  You betcha! Yes, I was ready to go before she even got the words out of her mouth.  However, there was one small detail in the plan that gave me pause: the movie she was taking me to was none other than the original "Friday the 13th," the movie about a killer who was slashing his way through - wait for it - a summer sleep away camp.  I swallowed hard and went anyway.

I had never seen a slasher movie before.  The closest I had ever come to terror on the screen was watching a hail storm ruin Pa Ingalls crop on "Little House on the Prairie".  The only blood-curdling screams I ever heard came from Laverne and Shirley when Lenny and Squiggy would bust open the door and say, "Hello!"

It couldn't be that bad, right?  They don't actually show people being hacked to death, do they? Although I try to block the images from my head, I can still see the first victim. She was against a tree, and the killer slit her throat wide open.  I was stunned.  To my eleven-year-old brain, this sh!t was REAL.  Over and over, the beautiful counselors met their doom.  The scene that is seared into my brain forever was between two young lovers.  They are getting down to business on a cot in one of the cabins (because that's what teenagers do when their friends are being brutally murdered) while unbeknownst to them, the killer was hiding beneath the bed.  When the guy leaves the room and his date is completely vulnerable, the murderer plunges a knife up into the mattress and completely through the girl's throat.  (I'm pausing here to regain my composure.)

A few days after seeing the movie, my mom dropped me off at camp.  I nervously walked through the woods to my cabin, anxiously checking behind every tree for an axe murderer.  When I walked through the door, I screamed, "Get back! The top bunk is mine!"  I carefully avoided consuming any liquids after 6pm for fear that nature would call and I would answer for the last time, meeting my fate in a mosquito-filled latrine.  It was Hell Week for me because each time I rode in a canoe, I was sure the monster would jump up from out of the murky water and drag me my death.

I have never gotten over that movie.  For years - literally - I would pile stuffed animals around me in bed at night with the hope that goodness and love would protect me from the cold fingers of a machete-wielding lunatic.  To this day, I am still afraid of the dark.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I sleep with the television blasting away all night.  There are night lights, sometimes more than one, in every room of my home.  When the powers goes out, I am a complete basket case.

So, thank you, Jason Voorhees, for reducing me to a cowering, scared little camper.  I must admit, though...I did take away one valuable lesson from that movie.  If you hear strange noises and suspect that there may be an evil-doer nearby, never, ever, ever have sex with that hot co-ed you've been dating.  You are surely sealing your fate if you do.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The view from the other side of 40...

I'm turning 43 years old this week, and I'm perfectly fine with it.  I'm not one of those people who fret over being another year older. I recognize that being on this side of the dirt, so to speak, is a good thing. So while I was on the internet goofing off doing research on how to save the planet, I came across this writer and young mom who took a moment on her 32nd birthday to recap what she "learned, figured out, or witnessed" during the last year.   I was intrigued because I have a completely different outlook on life in my forties than I did in my early thirties.  My life now wouldn't even be recognizable to the "Me" back then.

I read her list and liked it.  The first thing that came to my mind is that she is a much nicer person than I am and probably not a sarcastic control freak.  (I'm not too full of myself to admit that.)  I was nodding my head, thinking that she did a good job of summing up a few of life's truths that we need to accept sooner or later.  But as I got to the end of her post, I couldn't help but think that there is another chapter to be added, a chapter with a few more truths that you probably don't think about when you're 32 years-old.  These are lessons  I've learned now that I'm firmly in my forties...
  • Don't drink boxed wine.  Sure, you get more mileage from a box than from a bottle, and with the economy in the crapper, it's tempting, but what you need to do is savor.  Go for quality over quantity.  Getting drunk is for frat boys and Lindsay Lohan.  Lock the bathroom door, draw a warm bath, pour a glass, and reconnect to often as you can. (Well, not too much or you'll never get the laundry done.)
  • The world won't end if your young daughter hears a Katy Perry song that has the phrase "menage a trois" in the lyrics.  Believe it or not, you can influence your child more than a pop star.
  • When you get the e-mail from your kid's school asking you to sign up for items to bring to the Fall Festival/Valentine's Party/Teacher Appreciation Day, be sure that you are the FIRST one to respond so that you get to be the mom who brings drinks, cups, and plates instead of food.
  • When you hit your forties, those cupcakes WILL indeed make your ass bigger at a much quicker pace than at thirty.  If you don't want to go up a size or four, you'll probably have to eat something you don't like.
  • Make YOUR KIDS do the dishes before you go to bed.
  • If you make it to your forties and both of your parents are still alive, go hug them.  I wasn't that lucky.
  •  You don't have to wear a thong any more.  So what if people can see your underwear line?  No one looks at a 40-something mom's ass any way.
  • You are not required to complete school projects that are assigned to your children.  Encourage and support? Yes.  Create PowerPoint presentations and stay up late doing research while the kid sleeps? Hell, no.
  • You don't have to like people who are related to you.  When the olive branch you extend is broken, take a deep breath and move on with your life.
  • More than likely, your life will never turn out like you thought it would.  Once you accept it, you'll be much happier.  Sometimes, if you're lucky, it just might turn out better.
  • You will become invisible to young guys once you hit the forty mark.  It's okay because they don't have money any way.  (And they won't watch "The Breakfast Club" with you.)
  • Take care of yourself.  This life is survival of the fittest, remember?  Get your mammograms, use sunscreen, and exercise. Get rid of toxic people and toxic substances in your life.  You need to be around to tell your kids, "I told you so."
I'm sure I could come up with twenty more, but here's another truth about being over forty: Mama needs a glass of wine and a good night's sleep...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Rebuttal: I Promise I Won't Shoot My Eye Out

My kids know about this blog.  They don't really care about it, of course, because I'm old and not cool, and there isn't anything I could possibly write that would be of use to this slick auto tune generation.  However, a few days ago my husband was playing Bejeweled working on the lap top, and when he left to go get more potato chips  save the world, my son got on the computer and, for some reason, read my latest post.  You know...the one I wrote last week?  The one about him.

If you aren't familiar with my latest rant, my eleven-year-old son wants an Airsoft gun, and I quickly responded to his request with a great, big ol' "Hell to the No" before he could barely get the words out.  The foot was down.  The verdict was in, and there would be no appeal granted, but if there is one annoying personality trait that my children inherited from me, it's that they are persistent.  This child went to work.  He did his research.  He fine-tuned his defense.  Then, in an act of sheer desperation, the boy penned his rebuttal to my blog post.  What sixth grader writes an essay without being coerced?  

With his permission, I submit to you his plea:
"I’ve been to many websites that all lead me to believe that airsoft guns are safe. It has been proven by many weapons experts that it is a safe sport, and it is also a very active sport for kids that is fun and gets you the exercise you need everyday. Airsoft guns are not weapons that can harm anyone, and one of their main characteristics shows that they are not lethal: the orange tip on the barrel. 

Airsoft is nothing like a BB gun because they shoot small plastic balls at such a minimal speed that they cannot hurt or injure unless you are not playing properly, or for example, not wearing the proper eyewear or shooting too close with one of the more accurate guns.  While playing airsoft, it is a good idea that you play with the proper eyewear, which is the simple shooting glasses sold with many airsoft gun kits and many retail stores.  Airsoft began in the 1980’s and no one has been fatally injured ever in the whole existence of the product.

Last year when I pleaded for an airsoft gun the answer was no, so I told you I would be more responsible and earn the trust. I’ve done many things this year such as getting my own phone, and I’ve been responsible with it. I got the internet in my own bedroom, and I’ve been responsible with that. I’ve even started playing soccer while working as hard as I can to keep my straight A's. 

I have done my best at school, kept up being safe with my things, and made a promise to myself to try to be a better person. I am ready for the privilege of owning an airsoft gun. I promise to be safe with my guns, only shoot when adults are out to supervise, always wear the proper protection, and never to shoot someone or something that does not want to be shot, with that I conclude." 

My first thought was "who wants to be shot" and the second was that he wasn't playing fair.  He should just accept my final word and move on with his pre-teen life.  That would have happened except that his friends were planning an "Airsoft Party" this week where the boys build forts and run through the woods shooting at each other.  (Safely shooting at each other because they want to be shot at, right?) My husband kept feeding his hope behind my back which goes against every rule in the Parental Code section titled "Present A Unified Front So The Kids Don't Win". His closing argument against my blog post was that he had plenty of his own money to buy the gun, so it's not like it would cost me anything.  (Except medical bills when he shoots his eye out) 

I debated this over and over in my head.  He kept calling me into his room at night to read articles on Airsoft safety.  (Clearly this child will be an attorney one day.) Mothers whom I have a deep respect for as parents have let their kids have these guns. Plus, the kid wrote a paper! Lastly, I realized that if I wasn't paying for it, then it boiled down to one thing: is he responsible enough to own one? 

I said yes, damn it.  The boy has his gun.  Now, I'm practicing another phrase, one that I really hope I don't have to use: "See there?  I TOLD you those things were dangerous!"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!!!

My eleven-year-old son wants an Airsoft gun.  With an arsenal of the Nerf variety already cluttering my house, I really didn't see the need to start a new collection.  We have so many of those foamy Nerf bullets spilling out from every drawer and crevice that we could probably pack and ship a baby grand piano in a pinch.  They're in the yard, too.  Every time I hit one with the lawn mower I hear, "Look! It snowed!"  Ugh.  So, why on Earth does this child need another gun?  (All together, now...say it with me.)  Because everyone else has one.

The name sounds so perfectly benign.  Airsoft.  Aiiiiirsoooooft. It's like a delightful mattress brand or maybe gel inserts for your shoes to help with those nasty bunions.  I have to admit that I'm not a fan of toy guns even if the name does invoke thoughts of a set of 1,200 thread count sheets.  I just hate to see a kid with a gun, and I come from a family chock full of military veterans and manly men who hunt for their meals (insert chest pump here).  Plus, this is the South.  You can't even spit your tobacco juice without hitting a gun rack in a pick up truck.  I should be beaten down to the point of submission on the gun thing by now, but unless the guns are neon colored or squirt water, it gets vetoed by the Queen.

After a year or more of relentless begging, I decided to check out this Airsoft craze.  For as much as my son desperately wanted one, I figured they must spew Cheetos or give answers to geometry homework.  To hear it from this child, you would think every kid in the Free World had one except him, and since I remember throwing the same line at my mom when I wanted a mood ring and a pet rock, I figured I owed it to him to at least Google the gun for good measure. (Google is now a verb.  Weird.)

The boy promised me the guns were completely harmless.  LIAR.  As a mother, of course the first topic I searched was "Airsoft gun accident images".  You must start with the lowest common denominator.  Kids do not possess good judgment when it comes to pointing a gun, and I wanted to see the worst case oops-I-didn't-mean-to-shoot-off-your-earlobe scenario.  It was ugly.  I saw broken teeth, punctured faces, and grown men who looked like they had the measles as they were covered in red holes from the pellets.

Next, I looked up the safety equipment suggested for those interested in cul-de-sac war games.  These completely harmless little toy guns seem to leave quite a mark if you aren't properly protected.  My favorite quote from one of the websites I visited insisted, "They can not kill a person or cause heavy bleeding like a real gun."  Nice. 

You'll only lose your teeth and an eyeball or two unless you're wearing this:

And don't forget that you'll need one of these:

What is this?  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?   A weapon of suburban destruction for my kid?  Oh. Hell. No.

My son is heavy on the defense now.  He keeps searching the web for the pro to every con I give him.  My main concern is that, at eleven years old, he is still far too immature for a "toy" that can be used to strong arm his little sister.  I can see her taking the last bottle of Gatorade, and BOOM, one shot sends her straight to Sammy Davis Jr Land, sporting a glass eye for the rest of her life. This Mama is putting her foot down.

My husband, however, does not share the same sentiment.  He thinks the boy can learn responsibility by handling his gun properly and using it only as intended.  I say if he needs to work on his maturity, let's have him make sure the dogs have water each day instead of giving him the means to kill small animals.  This is playing out much like "A Christmas Story" with the mom adamantly against it and the dad sneaking around on the sly to have it under the tree on Christmas morning. 

I'm afraid we have come to an impasse on the Great Airsoft Debate, and with December right around the corner, I have been practicing my line over and over again: "You'll shoot your eye out!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mean Girls: The Reunion

I was a Square Peg in high school, an introverted and painfully shy wallflower who hid behind a gregarious and fun-loving best friend. (I still am today, except now I hide behind my husband…and the computer.) Being a poor kid and always trying to hide the fact that I was a poor kid meant that I carried around a suitcase full of self-esteem issues. Furthermore, my looks were marginal at best, and, no matter if you like it or not, being pretty sometimes matters in high school. I had to work hard to be attractive, and I never felt like I truly fit in with the circle of kids who went to cotillion and had parents with summer homes on the coast. I always felt awkward and goofy, and the words coming out of my mouth always, always, always sounded wrong. I never felt good enough. Even in my forties, I’m a hermit who avoids being social at all costs. It’s a defense mechanism that’s working for me so far.

When I was sophomore, a new boy in town walked into my life. It was my “Sixteen Candles” moment. I was the geeky girl with an enormous crush on this impossibly handsome football player who didn’t even know I existed. I admired his chiseled bone structure and delighted in the shape of his very athletic butt. I scribbled his name over and over on my notebook. I planned our wedding and named our children. I made every effort to be in his universe even though I knew I was invisible to him. I watched him from afar with his beautiful, sun-bleached-blonde girlfriend. (Praying she would be run over by a dump truck.)

Ah, yes…his girlfriend. She was not only pretty, but she came from one of the nicer neighborhoods in town (only child = Princess). She wore the best clothes. She had a flawless face that never saw a day with a zit and looked gorgeous without make-up. Her hair was thick, shiny and always perfect, a direct contrast to the mousy brown Aqua Net hair helmet I was sporting back then. She spoke with a confidence and self-assuredness that I don’t even have today. In other words, I really hated that bubbly little bitch.

Kent and Barbie dated for a while, but their union came to an end when Barbie started cheating on him with another good-looking stud. (How slutty awesome that she had the pick of the litter!) Although I was thrilled that that they were no longer together, I didn’t hold out much hope that I was next in line. There was an entire cheerleading squad with first dibs on him. Besides, what could he possibly see in me, a band geek with stringy hair and fingernails bitten down the nub?

I still remember so clearly the night Kent called. Our only telephone hung on the wall in the kitchen, and in the days before caller ID, it was always my assumption that every call was for me. I dashed to the phone and breathlessly answered. A soft-spoken voice replied back to me, “Lynda? This is Kent Brockman….Hi.” I grabbed a chair to keep from collapsing. (Twenty-eight years later, I am blushing at the memory.) I stood there, twirling the cord around my finger and trying not to stutter. So many things went through my head. “How did he get my number?” “Was someone pulling a prank on me?” “Did I die and go to heaven?” I managed to squeak out a conversation, and that phone call lead to a date, which lead to several until we were going steady.

I was so proud to be Kent’s girl. I watched him practice with the football team (on the nights when it didn’t interfere with marching band). I still scribbled his name on my notebooks, but this time I could believe that “Mr. and Mrs. Kent Brockman” might actually come true.  We talked for hours every night, but a couple of months in, he started to be "too busy" and would "forget to call".  After going two days without hearing from him, I decided to do the unthinkable - call him.  You see, I kind of had a sneaking suspicion that Kent had taken Barbie back.  I didn't have concrete proof, but her sideways glances and whispers each time she passed me in the halls were cause enough to investigate.

I called Kent, but his line was busy over and over and over again.  Then, I had an her. I looked up Barbie's phone number and dialed it.  I sank down onto the floor as the busy signal from the receiver resonated like a trumpet in my ear.  I was convinced they were talking, and I was right.  Kent called and broke it off with me later that night.  He admitted that he was back with Barbie and apologized for crushing my tiny fragile heart into a trillion splintered pieces.

When the Perfect Couple was together once more, Barbie proceeded with a Hate Campaign against me.  She flaunted her relationship with Kent, and, as if the Universe felt the need to punish me as well, we shared a class together and were forced to sit side by side.  She used this opportunity to publicly announce her love for Kent and generally make my life a living hell.  I was an easy target - the Dorky Girl.

We went our separate ways after high school, and although we live in the same town, I have managed to avoid her for twenty-five years...until now.  I was invited to a friend's house for drinks, something I rarely do, but this friend knows me, knows I'm shy, and she goes out of her way to watch my back. It was a mixed group, with half being folks I didn't know.  As I was sipping my wine and making polite conversation, the hostess said, "Oh, good!  Barbie's here!"

What. The. Hell...

I immediately started looking for the back door.  You mean to tell me that I have successfully lived Barbie-free all this time, and now we're face to my FRIEND'S house?  

I didn't look up when she walked in the door.  She greeted her adoring fans, and I never even gave her a glance.  I could feel her eyes on me, recognizing me immediately, I'm sure.  As we gathered around the bar, she was literally two seats over.  We sat there for more than an hour never acknowledging each other, never once making eye contact.  What do you say to someone who made your life miserable and caused you to feel like your teenage heart had been cut out of your chest with a dull knife?  I could feel my Inner Redneck rising up into my throat, but I washed her back down with a big swig of Merlot.  Out of respect for my friend, I didn't say what I really wanted to say. (And out of respect for my no-F-bomb-blogging, I won't repeat it here either, but I'm sure you can imagine.)

She left the party first, and that was it, completely anti-climactic.  Neither of us had the balls to confront the past, and neither of us was woman enough to make a friendly gesture.  I let my friend in on the back story after Barbie was gone.  We laughed about it and drank a little more.  Even though I never got to tell her what I had wanted to say all those years ago, I'll let you in on the best part...her ass is about six or eight sizes bigger than mine.  THAT, my friends, is the sweetest revenge of all....

Friday, September 16, 2011

If I die young...

I have this thing about crying in front of other humans.  I don't do it.  I didn't even cry at my own mother's funeral.  Of course, I sobbed like a baby in the bathroom when no one was looking, and still break down randomly when I'm alone in the car, but cry in public? Never.  I am one pale-faced, PMS-ing pillar of strength, my friend.  They have yet to make a sad-puppy-animal-shelter commercial that could penetrate this steely fortress clad in capri pants...but this week it almost happened.  This week a teenager died, and my throat is nearly exploding as it holds back the sorrow I feel over this absolute tragedy.

I'm going to be brutally honest here.  Whenever a parent hears of an accident involving a child, the first instinct is to account for your own, and then send up a silent prayer that your kids are safe.  It can't happen to you.  You won't even entertain that idea because it's the kind of thought that makes you feel nauseous and weak.  It happens to other families, and you pray for them, send them a covered dish of fried chicken, and offer to be there if they need you, and your life goes on.  You'll whisper at the grocery store to your neighbor about how awful you feel for the family when, inside, you're actually screaming, "Dear God, please don't ever let this happen to me!"

I didn't know the handsome young man who died this week, but I know his friends.  I know the parents of his friends.  I know that a tight-knit community was just sucker punched and isn't going to be steady on its feet for a while.  A group of bright, athletic kids who probably felt invincible and safe just got schooled in one of life's toughest lessons: death is real and permanent, and my heart is breaking for each and every one of them tonight.

I left my office this afternoon for home, and as my route took me past the church where the funeral was about to commence, I slowed for traffic, this sleepy little town now mobbed with family and friends making their way to remember a boy who should have been planning his Friday night date and not being laid to rest.  My lip quivered, tears fell, and the scary realization hit me that we can't protect our children forever.  I thought back to this morning as I was primping in front of the mirror, preparing to head off to work.  A silly pop song (that I hate) came on the radio, and my daughter raced into the bathroom where I was standing to belt it out with more enthusiasm than should be allowed at 6:25am.  She sang...

"If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Lord make me a rainbow, I'll shine down on my mother
She'll know I'm safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh and
Life ain't always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain't even grey, but she buries her baby"

Knowing how I feel about this horribly depressing little ditty, my daughter turned to me and asked, "Mommy, why do you hate it so much when I sing this song?"  I told her she would have to wait until she had a little girl of her own before she would understand...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Because I thought he needed to know...

I came out of the shower a few nights ago to find my son in my bedroom, riveted to the television.  I opened my mouth to ask what he was watching, but as soon as I saw what was on the screen, I knew immediately.  We all know the picture. It's the backlit image of the three mangled pieces of the World Trade Center jutting up from the remains of the building like crazy candles on a birthday cake.  He looked at me and said, "Mama, did you know that the terrorists practiced cutting the necks of camels so they would know how to kill the pilots?"

Major. Parenting. Fail.

Or was it?  My first instinct was to tell him to turn off the TV and go to bed.  I didn't want him to know the terrifyingly brutal details behind that horrible day.  An eleven-year-old boy doesn't need to know that Satan's minions planned to slit the throat of an innocent passenger on each plane and leave them bleeding, dying as a warning to keep the others at bay.  I didn't want him to see the devastating images of desperate people jumping to their deaths from the windows of the World Trade Center.  Then, he told me that he had been watching the National Geographic channel's series on 9/11 all week.  "It's history, Mama.  I need to see this." Against what my heart was telling me, I reluctantly agreed.

I sat down with him, and we watched together as rescue workers pulled bloody victims from the Pentagon.  He was stunned to learn that the terrorists lived among us and even passed through our state as they traveled around the country preparing for their demonic deed.  He asked seemingly simple questions that are still difficult to answer.  "Why didn't anyone find their weapons before they got on the plane?"  "Why would they want to crash into buildings that just had businesses in them?" "Why did they do this, knowing they were going to die, too?"  The question that hit me the hardest was, "The people on the planes didn't have a chance, did they?"

We talked later about where we were when it happened and how it has changed our lives and the country as a whole.  He doesn't seem to be any more afraid now than he was before he learned the awful truth of that day.  True to his problem-solving nature, he kept trying to figure out ways the victims could have survived because the magnitude of the disaster was just too huge for his brain to comprehend.  Slowly, he is understanding what this day meant to our nation.

I'm sure there are plenty of other parents out there ready to shame me for letting my son see the gory images and hear the heart-wrenching sound bytes that are familiar to us but new for him.  I felt like he was ready to hear the whole story.  So, now he knows, and I'm okay with that.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

45 is NOT the new 25

Look around your circle of friends these days, and I bet you'll be hard pressed to find a grown up.  Sure, you might have a gaggle of girlfriends squarely in middle age, but no one is bold enough to act like it any more. These days my world seems to be nothing but a sea of low cut tops, men playing video games, and women showing their asses like they're at a frat party. Well, I'm over it.  We have been brainwashed into believing that acting your age (if your age is over 25) is taboo.  I'm calling bullsh*t on that notion.  I hate to break it to you, but 45 is NOT the new 25.  I don't care what Sheryl Crow says.  I'm taking back adulthood one Bunco party at at time, and here are some rules that I plan to live by for the rest of my days...

1. No bikinis over the age of 40 - I'm starting with this one because I'm guilty as charged.  I thought the fact that I exercise regularly afforded me the privilege of showing off the goods.  Well, I finally accepted the idea that I'm missing something that girls half my age possess: elasticity.  That's right, when my feet stop walking, sometimes the thighs and belly do not.  There isn't a P90X workout in the world that will put the snap back into those areas that time, childbirth, and gravity have removed it from.  I solemnly swear to wear nothing more risque than a tankini.

2. I will not answer the door or do yard work in only a jog bra and shorts.  I'm constantly reminded of our former (big chested) neighbor who was apparently so hot-natured that weeding her garden made her shirt come off every time she was within our view.  It's never a good thing when your celebrity doppleganger is Jabba the Hut.  Take comfort in the fact that I will always grab a shirt before you lay eyes on me.

3. I will never flirt with my children's friends or boyfriends.  I honestly do not care if teenage boys vote me into the MILF category.  I have never aspired to be a cougar or the Most Popular Mom in the Carpool Line.  Unless you are a man older than me with a reliable job, unlimited credit, and a nice, padded bank account, I don't give a crap what you think.  Besides, my heart belongs to Harry Potter.  Just kidding!!...(sort of).

4. I will never wear a skimpy sundress with cowboy boots and braids in my hair.  I'm not Taylor Swift and neither are you.  Enough said...

5. I won't pretend to like my children's music so they will think I'm cool.  First, they don't know anything about good music, and second, I don't care what they think.  I get so sick of watching moms fake-listen to Lil Wayne and feign a deep appreciation of his lyrics.  What the hell?  Just admit that you haven't been up to date on the music scene since Cyndi Lauper was a headliner and move on.

6. I will not dress from the Junior's section at the mall.  I'm just going to break your heart right now.  Your thighs will not fit into those junior jeans.  Go ahead.  Try them on...don't let the dressing room attendant see you cry when the circulation to the lower half of your body is restricted and you come to the stark realization that childbirth does indeed reshape your body.  Stop trying to look like you're buying a prom dress and not an outfit for your 25th high school reunion.  It's okay to be in your forties.  There's no curfew here.

7. I will not try to out-drink a college kid.  Even though this doesn't really apply to me, Facebook has made it apparent that it DOES apply to some folks I know.  Here's the thing:  that college kid/friend of the family you're tailgating with?  His full time job is playing drinking games. Oh, and another thing...he isn't on high blood pressure medicine and anti-depressants.  It's a game you can't win, my friend.  Act your age.  Beat him at the game you can win: Who Has a Higher Credit Card Limit.

8. I will not be the BFF to my children until they are gainfully employed adults living outside of my home.  This is a tough one for parents to follow today.  It's cool for your kids to like you, right?  WRONG.  How do you punish your friends?  Do you regularly go to your friend's house and tell them to clean it up or else?  Hell, no.  Somewhere along the line there was a catastrophic breakdown in the wall separating parents from their children, and those children got uppity, thinking they actually had a voice when it comes to what is best for them.  I always hated it when my mother said, "Children should be seen and not heard".  Now, I see where she was coming from.  Until they stop wanting to wear princess dresses to school or listen to K$sha, I will make the rules, and they will follow them.  Period.

I'm taking back adulthood, no Justin Bieber fans allowed.  Now, go take off the flip flops and Hollister tee shirt and put on some real clothes.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Since you've been gone...

Dear Mama,

I won't be going to your grave tomorrow.  I'm sorry, but I know you aren't surprised.  I never go there.  I'm not sentimental like you, and I know you don't hold that against me. (And please don't say I'm just like my daddy.  The truth hurts.)   I never understood the point of standing in an open field of buried strangers and talking to the dirt and sky.  It doesn't comfort me in any way to see your named etched in stone with those two finite dates below it.  Instead of bringing me any kind of peace, it always smacks me in a "holy-crap-she's-really-gone" kind of way.  (Sorry, I know you hate for me to say "holy crap".)  So, instead of driving to the place where your spirit never lived and commemorating that forgettable day, I decided to write you this letter to let you know what you've missed since you've been gone.

First of all, you would be so proud that I finally let my hair grow out.  Seriously! I did! You always told me how you liked it better long, but I was too damn lazy and impulsive on bad hair days to stick to it.  How many times did I chop it off?  How many times did you beg me not to chop it off?  Well, I sucked it up, hid the scissors, and I think you would approve. Jacob even told me he hated it because it makes me look like a teenager.  HELLO!  I guess that means I'll never cut it again.

And speaking of Jacob...I wish you could see him now.  He has grown into such a handsome young man.  He's in middle school now.  Can you believe so much time has passed?  When you last saw him, he was a little kid who couldn't stand for me to touch his hair or dress him in clothes that matched.  Now, he's up before the birds, making sure every hair is in place and that his clothes look just right.  And...he has contacts.  I know!!  It makes my skin crawl, too, but he has been so mature in taking care of them because he knows that I don't do eyeballs.  The only thing about your "sweet baby" that hasn't changed is the relentless teasing he gives to Hannah.  You and I both know that deep down...he thinks she's really kind of cool.

And, Hannah...she talks about you all the time, you know.  She tells me that she misses you, and I want her to miss you.  I want her to remember that you shared a deep love of all things sugary and sweet.  I want her to remember sneaking into your bedroom at night and eating jelly beans with you.  I want her always know that you played Tickle Monster with her from the chair because you weren't able to get on the floor with her or chase her around like other grandmothers, and she was just fine with that.  I want her to remember rocking with you and singing songs.  (She has your beautiful singing voice, too.) You left us when she was only three years old, and I'm scared as hell that the dim light shining on those memories of you is becoming weaker, soon to fade out altogether.  I'm doing what I can to keep you here, to keep a little girl's image of her beloved Granny in tact.  It's so hard because time marches on.

I guess I should bring up the fact that our crazy, psycho dog, Pippy, passed away.  I have been secretly praying that all dogs do NOT go to heaven, because I know how much you couldn't stand that mangy mutt here on Earth.  I would hate for her to be barking at the wind, growling at the swaying trees and trying to sit on your lap for eternity. 

I don't know why I bother to put my thoughts into words.  I know you're here, and you probably love that I have the television on The Weather Channel most of the time.  Were you shocked that I actually made Thanksgiving dinner...from scratch?   I have a new respect for your mad cooking skills, however I'm not impressed with how you recorded your recipes for posterity.  Did you notice that I found your instructions for Seven Layer Cookies scribbled on the back of a bank deposit slip from 1975?  I was just surprised that you kept it...and that I found it.  (They were delicious, of course.)

 I miss you every day, so please forgive me for not visiting tomorrow.  I'm taking a lesson from you and having a Girl's Day Out.  I think you would approve of some pampering and lunch instead of having a pity party.  You always did love the girly stuff, didn't you?  Oh, and by the way...all those times you told me that you hoped I would have a kid of my own just like me that drove me crazy  just like I did you?  Well...thanks for the heads up, Mama.  She's here.

I love you,


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To Live and Die in 8th Grade

I have poked fun at myself the last few weeks, joking about the transition to middle school that my son is making this week. For as much as I like to complain about the hormones, the zits, and the prison-like PE uniforms we were made to wear under duress, I had a good run those three years. While it was there that I developed a deep and enduring hatred of cheerleaders as a whole, it was also the time that I made friends whom I have kept to this day. (I’m amazed that none of us succumbed to Aqua Net Lung disease as adults from all the hairspray we used with reckless abandon.) Looking back on those days of John Cougar, Alexis Carrington, and Izod Lacoste makes me smile…almost. My middle school years would be nearly perfect if it wasn’t for one disturbing and unforgettable memory: a girl named Patty who threatened to kick my ass every day of eighth grade.

Patty and I were very different girls. I can almost guarantee you that our parents shared the same socio-economic status, but while I did everything in my power to hide it, Patty embraced the Southern Redneck-in-training persona. I came to school wearing penny loafers, khaki skirts, and button-down collared shirts with a silk ribbon tied in a bow around my neck. Patty also had a uniform, but the one she wore consisted of dirty tennis shoes, tight blue jeans with the hem turned up by one cuff, and a tee shirt touting the heavy metal band du jour on the front. (My personal favorite was her Black Sabbath tee.) We both sported feathered hair, but mine was of the sort where I stood in front of a mirror with a blow dryer and curling iron perfecting my dirty blonde wings, then plastering them and avoiding slight breezes and sudden head movements for the day. Her hair style was more about just pulling a huge comb from the back pocket of her Levi’s, slicking it to the rear like The Fonz, and then daring it to move.

It’s strange that Patty would have ever crossed my path. We didn’t share any of the same friends. I was in the Beta Club and the concert band. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that she spent her extracurricular time plotting ways to ditch school without being caught and stealing cigarettes from her dad. We definitely didn’t share a table at lunch or have any classes together. The two of us were traveling in completely separate universes until the day she confronted me in the lunch room, the day that I realized I had something that she wanted but couldn’t get (and I’m not talking about an add-a-bead necklace, people): I had the affection of the boy she loved, and she would do whatever it took to knock me out of the lover’s triangle…literally…with her fist.

Let me just state for the record that NO, my parents were tired after raising six kids, but they didn’t let me date at thirteen years old. Back then, our relationship started with what we called “going together” (even though we didn’t actually “go” anywhere except to the courtyard at lunch). It progressed to talking on a corded phone (our phone was on the kitchen wall), trying desperately to speak in hushed tones so that my family wouldn’t hear our sickly-sweet teenage conversation. And that was IT. The object of Patty’s undying love and affection never even kissed me. That was of no consolation to her. Once she caught wind of the fact that he took me to a banquet where the boys wore neck ties, the girls wore long dresses, and we shared a meal and even held hands, it was over….I was toast.

I spent the better part of that year hiding in crowds and trying to memorize her schedule so that I wouldn’t run into her in the hallway between classes. I’m guessing she spent her time writing the name of that dark-haired boy on her notebook while daydreaming of having her friends hold me down while she pummeled my face until the only thing left was the lingering scent of my Love’s Baby Soft perfume. She had me terrified that each school day would be my last.  It wasn’t my fault this guy was more attracted to a Valley-Girl-talking Moon Unit Zappa wannabe instead of The Iron Maiden. Why should I get pulverized when HE was the person who decided that he preferred the smell of my Breck shampoo over day old Marlboro’s in her hair?  She should have been pleading her cause to him, not trying to assasinate me.

Even with all of the threats, scary looks, and promises of certain death, the beating never happened. It turned out that Patty was all talk and no smack down. Maybe she understood deep down that no boy is worth getting expelled from school. Maybe her friends talked her out of jumping me as I left the band room with my hands full of books, sheet music and a saxophone. Maybe she looked around the arcade and realized that she would be much happier spending her time with a boy who would rather play Pac Man and get high before school than one who played football and chased preppy girls. Whatever the case, I survived eighth grade.

I don’t know what ever became of Patty. We went to different high schools and never crossed paths again. I will tell you this, though…she left a lasting impression on me and to this day, every time I head out for deodorant and light bulbs, I expect to walk through the door of the store and see Patty standing before me in a blue smock exclaiming, “Welcome to Wal-Mart!” A girl can only dream…

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

I don’t have a dog in the global warming fight. I’m usually too busy refereeing sibling knockdowns, reading your Facebook status updates, and checking my hair in the mirror to worry over the speed at which our polar ice caps are melting. Don’t get me wrong. I do care about our planet, but my tired, homework-laden children and those three filthy four-legged pains in the ass capture my attention quicker than a no-win political debate. I’m a firm believer in the school of thought that goes something like - it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter - but as we round the corner into the last unrelenting lap of this brutal season, I just have one thing to say: It’s really effing hot, y’all.

I have lived in the armpit of America for more than four decades now. I know hot in the Biblical sense, and I have a deeply intimate relationship with humid. If you have never experienced the discomfort of taking a short walk to the mailbox and then having to change your sweaty underwear, well, consider yourself blessed. If you can step outside without the hairspray on your hair turning into Crazy Glue from the nearly tangible moisture in the air, then you are among the lucky ones.

I haven’t always been a Hot Weather Wussy. I grew up in a house without air conditioning in South Carolina, and here I sit none the worse for wear. I have no memory of ever looking at our thermostat as a child, but I’m guessing that if it was one hundred degrees outside, those box fans in the windows probably didn’t bring down the inside temperature too much. It was more of a contact cool. If you weren’t standing directly in front of the fan, you might as well be standing in the front yard. And cooking? Heck, yeah, my mom still cooked during those sweltering days of Bugs Bunny and Mood Rings. Who doesn’t want to dig into some homemade fried chicken with steaming mashed potatoes and hot-out-of-the-oven biscuits when there is sweat trickling down the back of your neck? I didn’t know any better.

Toward the end of elementary school, my parents purchased an air conditioner window unit – for their bedroom. They would keep the door closed at all times, and the unspoken rule was “Young’uns should stay the hell outta there”. I remember playing outside and hearing the delightful hum of that machine, watching water drip from its coils. The freon-induced temptation was overwhelming. I would creep up the back porch stairs, tip-toeing in while being careful not to let the screen door slam, and then, sneaking down the hallway, I would quietly slink into that restricted space for just a minute or two of pure chilly Heaven. Many times I simply plopped down in front of their room to feel the tiny stream of cool air flowing underneath the door.

As a teenager, my mom and dad splurged on a second unit. This time, it was for the rest of the house. (Insert a round or two of “Hallelujah Chorus” here.) Finally, I could sit on the pleather sofa without leaving sweaty butt marks. My dream of getting dressed and walking out of the door with completely dry hair had come true! No more sleeping on top of the bed covers to stay cool at night. No more using our outside voices to be heard over the symphony of fans. Once and for all, we were allowed to close up those doors and windows, effectively turning us all into hermits.

I officially lost my edge that day. I say it’s a small price to pay for a climate controlled living space. I grew up in Helltown, my friends, so call me a wussy if you want, just don’t block the vent.

Monday, July 25, 2011


My in-laws were gracious enough to promise all of their grandchildren a trip to Disney World when they were young.  One by one, they took each set of grandkids to Florida for a week of Mickey Mouse-filled fun.  The problem that began to surface with this awesome plan was that my husband and I waited a long time to have children after getting married - nearly ten years to be exact.  By that time, my in-laws were well into their golden years, and we knew that putting off the trip until our younger child was old enough to enjoy the park was not an option.  We went when my daughter was only two years old, and unfortunately,  she has no memory of that week at all. 

That trip to Disney was the only time my children have been to an amusement park.  Granted, that is the Grandaddy of all parks, and if you live in Alaska or Tibet where roller coasters are few and far between, that might not be a big deal.  However, I have a world-class amusement park right outside my front door, and I have never taken my kids there.  This is the first time I have ever let loose with this abominable secret in public because I know that by denying them this childhood pleasure,  I am guaranteed a spot in the Bad Mommy Hall of Fame.

I have my reasons for not taking them - many, many reasons.  Have you seen how much sweaty, smelly skin is exposed by patrons of amusement parks?  They hop on the water rides first, effectively washing off every drop of deodorant (if they wear deodorant) and walk around baking themselves in the sun all day.  Then, they rub up next to you in line or worse - you have to sit in the moist seat they just vacated on the ride you're boarding. 

Speaking of the sun, I live in a place where meteorologists frequently warn you not to go outside because it's too hot.  Seriously.  Where else but the Sun are you told not to leave your house because the blazing heat will kill you?  The humidity is so bad here that being out in nature during the middle part of the day feels exactly the same as jogging around with a warm, wet washcloth over your nose and mouth.  It's Dante's Inferno kind of hot.  Plus, I really hate being flipped upside down, splashed with rancid water, and flung through the air on rides controlled by teenagers who think K$sha is awesome.  How smart can they be?  I think these are perfectly valid reasons.

My plan to avoid this bastion of over-priced drinks, funnel cakes and glow necklaces was going along just fine until last week.   While we were watching one of our favorite shows, "Bert, the Conqueror", my daughter unknowingly stabbed me right in the heart with one innocent question.  The host of the show was at Cedar Point amusement park riding roller coasters that qualify in my book as wet-your-pants kind of scary.  As my little daredevil stared at Bert who was screaming, laughing, and generally being freaked out in a good way,  she said to me, "Mommy, can we go there?  I'm going to ride ALL of those roller coasters." 

Worst. Mom. Ever.

My child had no idea that a full day's worth of this kind of action was in our own backyard, but I did.  Sure, she's seen the commercials but has never really pressed the issue of actually going there, so I certainly never brought it up.  Even my son, who you would think would be all over going to an amusement part, hasn't asked.  Secretly, I hoped they never would...until they were old enough to ride everything without "a responsible adult".  (Not that I necessarily qualify)

I walked around with a big ol' bag of guilt on my shoulders for a couple of days.  Why do I always project my hang ups on everyone around me?  Kids like roller coasters. Period.  Why should I deny them this experience?  Because I hate smelly rednecks in undersized tube tops?  I was going to have to suck it up (and hold my nose). 

I bought us all season passes.  Yes, the summer is nearly over, but the park is open until late September, so we'll get in plenty of ride time.  I can't let my fears stop everyone else in my house from living. 

I couldn't help but to buy this picture snapped of us while riding one of the coasters. Our faces sum up our personalities exactly.  My fearless husband and daughter in front, pure joy and excitement on their faces.  My son, the reserved one, pulls in close to me while managing a smile.  Then, there's me.   Just look at me.  I'm a basket case, but even as much as I hate to admit was worth every penny.
As the first night came to an end with a fantastic fireworks display and Katy Perry singing, "Firework" over the park's sound system, my nothing's-ever-fun kind of son looked at me and said, "This night was perfect." 

Yeah....pretty much.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Expecto Patronum!!!!!!!!!

Maybe I should be ashamed that I am a forty-two year-old woman with a serious Harry Potter addiction. Perhaps the fact that I can rattle off spells and the names of angst-filled teenage wizards means that I have a little growing up to do myself. Now that the last book has been written and the final installment of the movie series is debuting this weekend, I suppose I should find my way back from Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and settle into the grown up world of mortgages, laundry, and rednecks in tube tops at Wal-Mart. Hmmmm…maybe not.

My intense love affair with magic began before the author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, even learned to write in cursive. I can pinpoint the exact moment I became hooked – it was the first time I sat down in front of our ugly console television and tuned in to watch “Bewitched”. You remember the lovely Samantha Stevens, don’t you? She was the blonde-haired witch living the good life in suburbia with her anxious, non-magic husband, Darrin, and a host of wizarding relatives who always seemed to pop in unannounced. (Dr. Bombay was my favorite.) Each week there would be a witch or warlock throwing a stick into the Stevens’ best laid plans, and madcap hilarity would always ensue. With one twitch of her perky nose, Samantha could make nearly anything possible. That’s what I wanted. That’s why I fell in love with magic.

As silly as it sounds, pretending to be magic made my childhood seem a little less dysfunctional. I lived in an elaborate fantasy world where I could snap my fingers during those long, hot summers and escape from our tiny un-air conditioned house to a beautiful place with lush, green lawns, sparkling swimming pools, and parents who didn’t have to labor in dead end jobs for a paltry salary. I would climb into bed at night and rest my head on the sill of my open window, hoping to catch a stray warm breeze while staring up at the stars and dreaming of what it would be like to be able to utter an incantation and, all at once, make everything better. In my wizarding world, there was plenty of money to pay the bills, siblings didn’t run away from home, and I never, ever had to eat liver.

I would use my make-believe magic for small things, too, like getting rid of my dreaded freckles or giving myself long, thick blonde hair or treating my wardrobe to an extreme makeover. I could wiggle my nose like Samantha Stevens and, in an instant, I had every Barbie Doll and Barbie Doll accessory on the market. I was a very busy pretend witch.

I never truly outgrew the whole “wanting to be magic” thing, so it was no surprise that when Harry Potter hit the scene, my love of wizardry was re-kindled. His tale was even more appealing to me because it was my childhood dream come true. Here is a boy who lived an oppressive life with relatives who resented his very existence, and then, out of the blue, Harry is told that he is actually a wizard who gets to trade in his miserable “cupboard under the stairs” for a castle with talking paintings and flying cars that drive themselves. I guess the down side is that he has a Dark Lord trying desperately to kill him, but to have a working magic wand and a broomstick that really flies, I might just consider the whole trying-not-to-get-murdered thing a necessary evil. I guess it can’t always be sunshine and butterflies, even if you do have magical powers.

I have immersed myself in the Harry Potter culture. My kids have the Gryffindor robe and hat, along with the entire library of movies. (Of course, the books are better.) I soaked up the lives of these young wizards as if they were part of my family, and in the ultimate act of complete geekiness, I even have the Harry Potter app on my phone.

Just as when I was a child, getting absorbed into this magical world allows me to escape for a while from the Real World with its wars, murdered toddlers, and an economy lingering in the crapper. I think how much fun it would be to actually have an invisibility cloak, especially when it’s time to unload the dishwasher or clean up dog poop, and who among us wouldn’t love to get their hands on a time turner, making it possible to go back to high school to fix our stupid fashion mistakes?

Like Samantha Stevens did decades ago, Harry Potter adds a little bit of whimsy and adventure to a grown-up life that is mostly humdrum and predictable. So, if you promise not to mock my love of all things wizard, I swear I won’t judge you for falling in love with a brooding young vampire…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Girls just wanna have fu-un...

My maternal grandmother died when I was twelve years old.  We all loved that woman with her thick, Southern accent and horn-rimmed glasses.  Unlike my father's mother, she actually enjoyed being our Granny, giving us unlimited hugs and pajamas for Christmas.  She took up ceramics in her senior years, and I loved visiting her apartment filled with Holly Hobbies, assorted animals, and a couple of lighted Christmas trees that she painted by hand.  We went to the same church, and I thought it was funny that she would always get up to greet the family before the service started, but she never actually sat with us.  She would go back to her pew in the clearly defined Blue Hair section where she was the Mayor.  My Granny was part Cherokee Indian, and I would daydream about what her life must have been like growing up in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1900's.  (One look at my picture and it's obvious I did not inherit any of that Cherokee blood.)

Her death came after a very brief illness.  It was devastating, especially for me, as I was still just a kid.  Even today, I can remember my mom coming home from the hospital in tears with the news, and how I went outside to swing on my swingset, letting the idea of a world without Granny sink in to my brain.  After the burial, we all met back at my aunt's house for the traditional post funeral meal of fried chicken, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and banana pudding.  The house was packed, so I slipped outside unnoticed because something caught my eye earlier in the day, and the burgeoning bad girl in me needed to investigate.

My older cousin came back to town for the service, and I took quite an interest in the fact that he was driving a motorcycle.  The younger cousins and uncles were admiring the bike, and I was among them.  I loved the idea of racing down the highway, wind whipping my hair and rushing around me like a hurricane.  The freedom of the open road was calling my pre-teen heart. 

Noticing my obvious lust for life, he offered to take me on a spin around the neighborhood.  I knew without asking that my mom would never let me get on that motorcycle, so, of course, I gave a resounding, "YES!"  I had to be discreet because my mother didn't need any more stress, and if she found out I went for a ride on that bike, my funeral would be next.  When the coast was clear, I hopped on, helmet-less, and off we sped into the blazing sun. (South Carolina still doesn't have a helmet law. Hello?)

It was a glorious ride.  I had only ever been on my blue and pink Huffy bicycle, so I felt like I was on a rocket to Mars that late summer afternoon.  Luckily, we made it back safe and sound, and it felt so good to be so bad, as I giggled over what I thought would be our little secret.  It was our little secret for about thirty seconds after he parked the bike because as I was getting off, I dragged my mischievous, little calf across the fiery-hot muffler.  That's right. In an instant, I went from pure joy against a soundtrack of crickets and cicadas to falling on the ground and gasping at the sight of a nasty burn the size of a plum on the inside of my leg.  It was oozing and sloughing off skin, and I thought I heard a small voice off in the distance whispering, "Karma is a bitch".

The secret was out.  How could I not tell my mom?  If no medical attention was required, my leg at least needed Mama attention.  If she hadn't been distracted by the sadness of the day, she would have kicked my butt right there in front of God and second cousins twice removed.  The burn was so disgusting as it started to heal that my older brother called me "Pizza Leg" for weeks.  I still have the scar to remind me of the start of my girl gone bad ways.

So, what made me think back to this painful day, a day that marked the beginning of my rebellion against all that is good and pure?  This is my daughter...

She's six years old.  Does it scare me to know that she would have driven off on this motorcycle given half a chance?  Do I cringe at the thought of my mother's words coming true?  ("Just wait.  You'll have a daughter some day, and she'll give you a hard time just like you're giving me!")  Do I worry that she'll fall for a tall, skinny, dark-haired guitar player who is just as addicted to her as he is addicted to crystal meth?  In one word: Yes.

My daughter is so much like me.  She hates authority, is fiercely independent, loves the bad boys, and knows that her way is the only way.  What scares me more is that she is also everything I'm not:  bubbly, adventurous, the life of the party, and fearless.  My anxiety kept me out of jail, in school, and off Welfare.  With this combination of personality traits, my child will either be the President of the United States or the CEO of a high-end call girl business catering to out-of-control sitcom stars.  At this point, I can see it going either way.

I'm encouraging the straight and narrow.  Even though I laugh about her love of tattoos and shaking her booty, I have my hand on her shoulder, gently guiding her away from the road I trod.   Honestly, I was really hoping that "Wild Child" gene would have skipped a generation...