I’m Okay With That

Why is it that people who publicly admit to not liking children are met with less scorn than those who confess to not being fond of animals?

Well, I’m not an animal lover.

There. I said it.

For the record, I don’t walk around wearing a sandwich board advertising my disinterest in cats and dogs (because that would be weird), nor do I ride through the streets of town in the back of a pickup truck blaring hate speech about animals through a megaphone (turns out you need a permit for that).

My point? I’m not necessarily proud of the reality that I don’t have a fondness for animals, but the fact is, I can’t control it any more than I can control the fact that I have brown eyes. It’s just something that...is. 

chipI grew up in a family of animals lovers, but for some reason, with me, it just didn’t stick. The cats we had as pets never really took to me. They always seemed more drawn to the members of my family who talked to them like they were newborn babies and who let them prance around the house like they owned the place. Call me selfish if you must, but the day I sit teetering uncomfortably on the pointy edge of a dining room chair throughout an entire Thanksgiving meal because the family cat happens to be sleeping soundly in that very same chair when it’s time for dinner, is the day pigs fly.

To be clear, I respect the love that I see shared between pet owners and their animals, I just don’t envy it or feel the need to have that same kind of connection with a pet in my own life. Sometimes I feel like people expect me to apologize for that, but the bottom line is, the reality that I don’t relate to animals in the way a lot of other people do doesn’t mean I have anything to be sorry about…it just doesn’t.

Now, having said all of that, when and if I do find myself in a situation where I’m asked, point blank, whether or not I like animals, my answer is always an honest, “Actually no, not really.” In response to that statement (especially from dog owners) I usually experience one of two reactions.

The first is when the person looks at me as if I’ve just enthusiastically admitted to being a serial killer proudly specializing in the demise of small children and the elderly because they can’t fight back or get away as quickly. After the look of outright horror and sheer disgust, the face of the person I’m speaking to often turns a vicious red, veins pop out on his or her cheeks and neck in places that I didn’t even know veins existed, and I almost always hear the words, “But my dog is like a member of my family!” And, because I never know just how to respond, that statement is usually followed by an awkward silence that signifies the end of the conversation.

A second common reaction is when the person smiles dangerously and immediately proclaims, “Oh, but you haven’t met my dog! You would LOVE my dog!” (Nope. No I would not.) Almost without exception this remark comes out sounding like a threat, and inevitably, just to prove the point, if the dog in question is anywhere in the general vicinity, it’s usually only a matter of seconds before I find myself pinned up against a wall while I’m being barked at, drooled upon, clawed at, groped, chewed, pummeled, shredded, nudged, prodded, lacerated (no, it’s true), sliced, diced, and in one case, very nearly strangled. All of this, of course, while the proud dog owner looks on lovingly. Occasionally, as all of this is playing itself out in front of their eyes, one of them will even say something along the lines of, “See? I told you she was sweet,” or “How could anybody not fall in love with him?” When all is said and done, by the time I’m done wiping the sludge that was deposited on my skin from the dog’s tongue or attempting to remove an amount of hair that could be rivaled only by Chewbacca himself, I usually just wave the white flag and get the heck out of Dodge as quickly as possible.

It’s the same thing every single time.

Even though I’ve had this experience more times than I can count, I still respect the love that my family and friends have for their pets, especially when I’m in their homes. Do I request that they keep their animals locked away or on a leash just so I don’t have to be near them? No, of course not. I mean, after all, who do I think I am?  Do I appreciate it when they do?  Of course. But I certainly don’t expect it. It’s their home. Their pet(s). Their rules. That’s the way it should be.

And not that I’m looking for a trophy or anything, but there was even a time I was able to keep my silence and not utter a single word of complaint while eating dinner at a friend’s even though the entire time we were seated (at least a good hour or so) the dog ran around under the table nipping, sniffing, dive bombing, rolling, slurping, and breathing more heavily than any Olympic runner has the right to at the end of the 400 meter sprint. Did I yelp ever so slightly when that dog gave me one too many savage nuzzles right to the stomach when I had a bladder full of red wine? You bet. But a yelp, mind you, is a sound. It’s not a word. And to clarify, I wouldn’t have needed so much red wine if I hadn’t been desperately trying to forget about the fact that my feet (sporting brand new sandals) somehow became the designated resting place for that dog’s rear end when it stopped to catch its breath and recharge before its next round of terror.

It’s when I have experiences like that one that I can’t help but think of the line…”But my dog is like a member of my family!” My nine year old son is a member of my family. How well do you think it would go over if the next time I invite friends over for dinner I allow him to crawl under the table and snarl, gyrate, pant, growl, snort, slobber and tumble to his heart’s content while my guests are trying to enjoy their meals?

Just curious.

In my defense, I want you to know that I almost liked a cat once.

Many years ago I did a lot of house sitting, and one particular dark and stormy night (no joke, it was evening and we were in the middle of a blizzard), I shared a moment of affection with the cat who lived in one of the houses where I was staying. For the first few days the cat met me with disinterest; doshe didn’t dart furiously about, nor did she make that creepy gurgling sound before stretching her neck and back in that extremely freaky way that always convinces me I’m just about to be pounced upon. She was just sort of…around, and after a few days I got used to her. One night, just before I opened her can of jelly encased cat food, I decided what the heck, and I reached out to scratch her neck. When she purred, I smiled and gave the top of her head a few gentle rubs. It was at that moment that the thought actually crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, having a cat someday wouldn’t be all that bad.

Fast forward approximately one hour and my newfound love affair with cats came to an unexpected and very traumatic end.The affection I had for that cat ended abruptly when, after scarfing down several particularly spicy pieces of pepperoni (not bragging), I found myself in need of an emergency trip to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Mouth ablaze, coughing desperately, and eyes watering to the point of tears, I turned the corner into the bathroom and witnessed the single most disturbing sight I have ever seen in all my life.

That cat, the very same one I had been feeding and tending to all week, the cat I had actually touched on the head less than sixty minutes before, was perched on the sink, its head angled in the creepiest of ways, taking licks from the dripping faucet…all while straddling my precious toothbrush.

And when I stay straddling I mean straddling.

The creature had one leg to the east and the other to the west while its private parts dangled directly atop the bristles of my one and only toothbrush. The very same toothbrush that I was in desperate need of using to put out the fire raging inside my mouth.

It was while I stood there, frozen in horror and helplessly observing that cat become more intimate with my toothbrush than my own mouth had ever been, that I realized I was being punished for the weakness I’d displayed earlier that night. Reaching out and petting it playfully on the head and actually thinking that perhaps this whole having a pet thing might not be so bad after all, was coming back to haunt me just as I should have known it would.

Hey, the simple fact of the matter is that I’m just not (and never will be) an animal lover. I’m okay with that. I just wish other people could be okay with it, too. Different strokes for different folks. Isn’t that the way the saying goes?

And as long as one of those strokes isn’t the brush of a dog’s behind across my new summer sandals or the wiping of a cat’s genitals on my toothbrush, I’m okay with that, too.

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I’d Like That In A Box, Please

Last October my eight year old son, who looks very much like the living, breathing embodiment of Harry Potter, announced that Halloween day at his school would be “Dress as your favorite book character day.” Great! I knew for a fact that we had the cape, the wand, the Hogwart’s tie….we were golden. It would be one less thing I’d have to worry about during a very busy time of year.

1391994_10200874665335629_526385577_nAs it turned out, my son’s interest in dressing as Harry Potter was nonexistent. Instead, he wanted to dress as Coach Hedge from the Percy Jackson book series. Yes. Coach Hedge. The sarcastic, obnoxious, club carrying satyr who calls everyone Cupcake.

Just perfect.

The whole experience caused me to look back on my own childhood memories of Halloween. Back to a time when things were a bit more simple and straightforward. To a time when you could buy your Halloween costume in a box.

That’s right. A box. 

Wonder Woman. Scooby Doo. Casper the Friendly Ghost. These icons play a staring role in my most vivid Halloween memories. As a child, nothing made me happier than when the shelves at department stores filled with boxes of brightly colored plastic costumes and paper masks. It’s weird to think that there are generations of people born after me that will never associate a Halloween costume with a box.

1381946_10200870781558537_1230830965_nThe clear plastic sheet in the center of the costume boxes allowed the characters inside to peer out (somewhat eerily now that I really think about it) at the faces of the young children eager to transform themselves. I can still smell the waxy, rubberized scent of the masks and costumes when I’d finally convince my mom to let me take them out of the box just ONCE before Halloween night. And sometimes, even now, in the wee small hours of the morning, I remember the melancholy and despair that swept through me when I’d be forced to puncture my beloved mask with a stapler because, just as my mom had vowed would happen, the elastic string designed to keep the mask in place did, in fact, snap when I insisted on playing with it just one more time.

It’s hard to believe that those truly were the good old days.

Please know that I’m certainly aware that the paper masks created a safety hazard because we couldn’t see that well through the almond sized eyeholes (not a swear word).

And yes, I’m shocked that we didn’t all burst into flames as we merrily glided and squeaked along the streets, encased in plastic, with our parents walking cheerfully in front or behind us smoking like chimneys as they “kept us safe” from the dangers of trick or treating. Believe me, the irony of that situation is not lost on me.

And alright, for crying out loud, I wasn’t always able to fully enjoy my loot by the time I returned home with a plastic pumpkin bursting with candy. Why? Because I was too lightheaded and just plain woozy from all the chemicals I’d been inhaling all night from my costume. It wasn’t just the eyeholes (why does that word make me giggle?) that were too small. You didn’t get a lot of fresh air in those getups, that’s for sure.

Looking back, it’s really a wonder that we’re alive.

But still…there’s just something about those days that I miss. You recognized the characters who walked by you on your quest for candy every October 31. Darth Vader. Popeye. Batman. We knew who those pop culture characters were and we adored them. We saw them on the big screen and in Saturday morning cartoons. They were fun. They were futuristic. They were hip.

Fast forward 30ish some odd years and all heck has broken loose.

Last week my son and I visited a popular Halloween store, and as we made our way to the children’s section, we passed a variety of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Dorothy costumes. Although they were all marketed toward young girls, each one would put the outfits displayed on the mannequins at the “Romantic Supermarts” to shame. I’m not proud of it, but as we continued walking, I found myself fighting the urge to imagine a scenario in which Mini Mouse might need to wear garters. It’s probably the second creepiest thought I’ve had in my whole life. The first being my puzzlement over one of those cakes that has a naked Barbie in the center. Once, at a birthday party, I watched a delighted little girl stare at her Barbie Princess cake as it was being carried to the table. Since it was the first time I’d ever really seen one (in the flesh, if you will), rather than joining in the singing, I found myself wondering how the cake would be cut. There clearly were not enough people in the room for the entire cake to be devoured, so the question became, would the cake be cut from the front resulting in the Barbie flashing the party goers OR, perhaps equally as disturbing, would that princess end up mooning us from behind?

I told you it was creepy.

snc18072_syon207In the end, all my worry was for naught. Within minutes of the candles being blown out, the grisly discovery was made that the Barbie was, in fact, legless. The revelation came as the blond beauty was recklessly yanked from the center of the cake by the four year old birthday girl who was intent on braiding Barbie’s hair. When all was said and done, poor Barbs ended up face first in a big blob of green frosting. The worst part about the whole scene was that, from beginning to end, it was alarmingly similar to the one and only segment I’ve ever seen of Girls Gone Wild.

Festive. I know.

Anyway…once we reached the section geared more toward eight year old boys, things didn’t improve. While there were a few familiar Mario costumes, a couple of Darth Vaders, and a few other recognizable characters, for the most part, that aisle left me feeling anxious. The long metal hooks displayed plastic bags filled with masks and costumes for characters that went by the titles Phat Pimp Child, Bleeding Chest Evil Pumpkin (what does that even mean?), Elf Warrior Child, Zombie Sock Monkey, Hipster Nerd, Hazmat Hazard, and Soul Taker.

It strikes me that very few of the costumes were pop culture icons and I’ve certainly never seen them on the big screen or on Saturday morning cartoons. It would seem we’ve traded paper masks and plastic costumes in the likeness of familiar, friendly characters, which admittedly posed both health and safety risks, for soul taking evil pumpkin heads (with bleeding chests no less) and every single kind of zombie known to man.

Please know that I’m not trying to be judgmental. I just find myself concerned that, at age 43, I’m turning into the proverbial “grumpy old man.” I mean, am I going to wake up tomorrow and scream at the neighborhood kids to, “Get off my lawn!”? I sure hope not.

Going to the Halloween store was certainly an eye opening experience for me this year. It made me realize that I should have been relieved that my son ch1wanted to dress up as a goat…man…thing. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the fact that I’m relieved that he’d rather be Coach Hedge instead of wearing a getup marketed under the name Bigger in Texas Flasher Costume. Yes, that’s the name of a real costume.  And no, I have absolutely no intention of finding out what that means.

My little guy wanted to be a sarcastic, obnoxious, club wielding goat man who calls everyone Cupcake, and that’s what I let him be. I guess it could have been worse.

Because That Man Walked This Earth

Note:

September 28, 2015. My father would have celebrated his 70th birthday today. This is a piece I wrote earlier this year to help cope with the impending anniversary of his passing. Although no words could ever really bring a man like him to life, taking the time to remember him in writing, especially the humorous memories I have of him, has proven very therapeutic.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

February 2014

When I wake up tomorrow, Sunday, February 2, 2014, it will mark the third anniversary of the day my dad, quite simply, just didn’t wake up. While that realization is somewhat debilitating, I’ve come a long way since that morning three years ago when I got the news that my dad had died in his sleep.

When I think about my father, the flood of memories that rushes over me is overwhelming. Naturally, some of those memories are more “unique” than others. For example, my dad never met a smelt he didn’t like. On any given weekend, whether my family was eating at Governor’s Restaurant or Geaghan’s Pub, you could hear him ordering fried smelts and (and I quote) a baked “bodado”. He never pronounced the word potato correctly by actually using the letters P or T. Never. I mean it. Not even once did I ever hear that man say the actual word potato. Although he was born and raised in Orono, or as he would say, Ono (he also often left the letter R out of his words) he had a pretty thick Maine accent.

Dad was not a very complicated man and it didn’t take much to make him happy. He loved it when I’d get emotional talking about the fact that he and his three brothers, along with their parents, lived most of their lives in a tiny apartment above the bowling alley in Orono without two pennies to rub together. He was proud of the fact (as well he should have been) that his real name, Lawrence, was given to him because his father, who worked in mills all his life, had a soft spot for a certain mill that he’d worked at in Lawrence, MA. And finally, he loved how curious I always was about the fact that he devoted his life to selling cash registers and never once put his degree in Physical Education to use. In his words, he had to do what made him happy.

It’s true. There’s never been anyone quite like my father.

It was the small things in life that made him truly happy. The Red Sox (of course), fiddleheads in the spring, sitting on the front porch of our home decked out in his coffee stained 532212_10151135913600785_10021386_nundershirt, plaid shorts and Dr. Scholl’s velcro sneakers (he had a passion for velcro sneakers the likes of which this world has never seen) and doing his best to strike up conversation with the participants in the annual Bangor 5 Mile Labor Day Race. Those were some of the highlights of his year.

The day of Dad’s funeral, my brother and I spoke about our father. The only way either one of us could survive that day was to remember the funny experiences we’d shared with him over the years. We talked about his love of sports and especially the basketball tournaments, and the fact that he always added an S to the name of every major department store…Wal-Marts, K-Marts, and when he could remember the actual name, Targets. For the first three years the store was open, he called Target “Gadgets”. One day he was beyond thrilled at having said the name of the store correctly. I could tell he was proud when he really emphasized the store name as he declared that he and Mom had just returned from “Budgets”. I never did have the heart to tell him that he was close, but no cigar.

God love him.

When I returned to my hometown after college, and after teaching for three years in a town about an hour away, I got to spend a lot of time with my parents. It was during that time that I learned things about them that I never took the time to notice when I was growing up. For example, by interacting with my parents as an adult, I came to understand how in love they were with each other. When you’re a child you don’t notice things like that, but when you’re an adult, you do, and it means the whole world. My father loved my mother unabashedly.

Perhaps the most surprising fact that I came to understand about my dad was that he was truly fascinated with space and the whole concept of extra terrestrials. Like most other people, I remember him taking me to see “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and he always had a real passion for the X-Files (though I’m pretty sure that had a lot to do with the attractive red head who played Scully). Either way, the time that I spent with my parents when I returned to Bangor provided me with some of the best memories in the world.

When Dad first saw the trailer for “Signs”, a movie about an alien invasion starring Mel Gibson, he literally called me up and left a three minute message about how excited he was to see it. It was released right after I returned from my honeymoon and going to the movie was one of the first things that my husband and I did with my parents when we got back from our cruise. I remember the four of us piling into the seats of the cinema. Mom ended up on one end with my husband next to her and then I sat between him and Dad who, because he had such long legs, always needed an aisle seat.

It’s been over a decade since the film was released, so I’m not too worried about spoiling it for anyone as I describe how the events of that movie going experience unfolded. Throughout the film, the girl who played Mel Gibson’s daughter was constantly drinking water and leaving glasses around the house because she didn’t like the taste of it. It was a source of annoyance for poor Mel, signs11but since he was a single dad trying to keep his children calm and safe, while at the same time having to deal with the crop circles that kept appearing on his farmland, it seemed a pretty minor infraction. Having said that, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the water was somehow going to be important later on.

As the movie neared its end, and the aliens inevitably made their way into Gibson’s farm, there was one thrilling moment when audience members made the realization that the water was going to be the ticket to the aliens’ demise. Now…did it come right out and say that? No. Did the words THE WATER WILL KILL THE ALIENS scroll across the bottom of the screen to let viewers know what was coming? Certainly not. Did speech bubbles appear above the on-screen characters’ heads that read, “Hey, I think the water will kill the aliens!” Nope. But you know what? The audience was given several clues that allowed them to infer that the water was the key.

Every single person in that theater picked up on those clues except for my poor father.

After the rest of the theater figured out that all that little girl needed to do to save herself was to get her tiny hands wrapped around the glass of water that was just beyond her reach, it took a good two minutes before she was finally able to do so. When she finally got the glass in hand, she threw it into the alien’s face, causing the figure to disintegrate. It was then, and only then, after the creature began to sizzle and smoke after having been doused with water by the fleeing child, that my father finally made the connection. And when he did, I assure you, all Hell broke loose. In a voice loud enough to have been heard three states away, and after slapping my knee so hard it brought tears to my eyes, he excitedly boomed, “WATAH! Karyn, it’s the WATAH!”

Sweet Mother of Pearl.

People snickered. Heads turned. I even think there were a few audible gasps. I slithered down in my seat and tried to placate Dad by whispering something along the lines of…“I know, I did NOT see that coming.”

It was a lie, but sometimes you have to choose your battles.

That’s when my mom decided to take matters into her own hands by leaning forward, and not so discretely (think of Wilma Flintsone hollering Freeed!) bellowing, “Red! SHHHHHH!”

Not to be outdone, Dad responded, classily of course, with a bellow of his very own…”Oh, Jesum Crow, Patricia…nobody’s listening to me!”

Her response was a resounding,“Well, SHHHHHHHH!”

Feeling utterly helpless, I turned to my husband, who, and I hate to keep filling this memory with cliches, looked exactly like a deer in headlights, and said, “Welcome to the family.” Honestly, what else could I say?

There’s not a single day that passes that I’m not overcome, 312986_2087682118363_1167129_nat least once, by heartache from all that we lost the day my dad passed away. And when I say “we” I mean our family, his close friends, the people whose lives he touched through his love of sports and refereeing, and all the people who got to know him on his sales routes all over the state. He touched the lives of every single person that he met through his kindness, his positive outlook on just about everything, and his great sense of humor.

Smelts made him happy. He loved baked bodadoes. The words don’t exist that can accurately describe the love he had for Dr. Scholl’s velcro sneakers. He didn’t often pronounce words exactly the way they were supposed to be pronounced and he made up fictional store names and swore to God they were real.

No, Dad. It’s Big Lots OR Best Buy. There has never been a store in the area that goes by the name of “Big Deals”. There just hasn’t.

He was all of those things and so very much more, but most importantly, he was my father and I worshipped him. I’ll never be exactly the same person that I was before he died. How could I be? But I’m the person I am today because that man walked this earth.

You Really Just Need To See Them For Yourself

Yes, they’re mud boots. 1391885_10200825684911149_21367115_nAnd yes, they have a heel.

But let’s back up, shall we? It’s the middle of September and I recently spent some time at my mother’s house helping her organize her Christmas sweaters.

No. I’m not kidding.

And no, I didn’t mean Halloween sweaters. Come on, those have been organized and in place since shortly after the Fourth of July for crying out loud.

Before I really get started, I want to make it clear that I love my mom more than anything in the world. From the time I was a little girl, I knew I had a great mother because my house was the place where all of my friends wanted to hang out. That meant a lot. Today, as a 43 year old woman, I still know that I have an amazing mom. My mother was a fourth grade teacher for 38 years and I often get reminders from people I’ve never even met via Facebook, when they contact me to tell me how much they loved being in her class. Many of them have said that they continue to remember her into their adulthood because she made such a difference in their lives. As a teacher myself, and more importantly as her daughter, that means the world to me. I wouldn’t trade the relationship I have with her for anything.

Mom was the kind of teacher who decked her classroom out for every single holiday. No matter the season, there was never a shortage of bright jack-o-lanterns with gaudy fake jewels for eyes, turkeys with an abundance of feathers, Christmas trees adorned with colorful sequins, Valentine hearts and St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks dripping with glitter, and Easter bunnies decorated with cotton balls. 557849_3983525633266_587467285_nSounds pretty typical for the most part, I’m sure. However, much to my despair, the fake jewels, feathers, sequins, glitter, and yes, even the cotton balls, extended to her wardrobe as well.

Yes, that’s right. Her wardrobe.

Anyone who knows both of us really well is aware of the fact that for as similar as we are in many ways, the differences between us are glaring. Needless to say, our sense of fashion is one of those major differences.

Getting Mom’s festive Christmas sweaters organized and separated into bins is one of the highlights of her year. That being said, one can’t help but wonder what categories could possibly exist for these sweaters that might require so much work. Please, allow me to enlighten you.

And, just a suggestion, you might want to be sitting down for this.

The sweaters are organized by color. By those that require batteries. By those that have Christmas trees intricately, and no doubt lovingly, woven into them. They are categorized by those with matching scarves, and by those that have 1, 2, 3, and in one somewhat unsettling and bizarre case, 65 Santas proudly displayed (and I do mean from EVERY angle) on the front, back, sides, and arms.

As luck would have it, the distinctions don’t end there. The separations continue to be made by those sweaters that have sequins and those that don’t. Those that have cotton balls, and those that don’t. Of course, the question begs, what happens if a sweater boldly displays a Santa whose suit is made of sequins AND whose beard consists of cotton balls? Which pile does that sweater end up in? Believe me, you need a degree in Statistics to figure that one out. In fact, for my Math teacher friends out there, this dilemma could be turned into one fantastic holiday themed word problem. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love one of those?

s2Finally, don’t get me started on the debacle of what to do with the snowman sweaters. As it turns out, those can be worn both before the holidays and after. They’re more of a Winter themed sweater, if you will.

Who knew?

Last year Mom bought me the snowman sweater pictured here for the holidays. Naturally, I thought she was kidding. When I realized she wasn’t, I introduced myself to her and asked if we’d ever met. Realizing my disdain for the sweater, she assured me I would change my mind as soon as I saw the snowman on the back.

s1Oh, yes. That helped a lot. I mean, is it me, or does this particular snowman look a little creepy? I love her a ton, but…I don’t wear sweaters sporting snowmen that bear likenesses to peeping toms. It’s just never really been my thing. Not to mention the fact that the one and only time I ever did actually give in and wear one of her sweaters to school, I got so frustrated that my students were distracted by the Halloween design that I ended up bellowing, “Stop staring at my pumpkins and pay attention to what I’m saying!”

So…that was fun.

At the end of the day I spent helping my mom prepare her sweaters for the holiday season, l loved knowing that I’d been able to help her in some small way. Knowing that her holiday sweaters are in place so that she, and I quote, “Won’t have to spend all her time digging through all those sweaters to find just the right one when the occasion calls for it,” makes me happy.

Well…happy and somewhat frightened.

As I made my way down to the garage to store the lids of all of the bins now bursting with Mom’s holiday sweater assortment, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the mud heels displayed at the top of the page. Literally, just when I thought I’d seen everything…these little gems popped out of nowhere and just begged to be photographed. Because Mom had threatened me within an inch of my life if I took pictures of her prized sweaters (and if I’m being honest, no picture could EVER really do any of them justice anyway) I was able to convince her to let me take a picture of her recent purchase. When I brought them into the kitchen and plunked them down on the counter to get a better look at them in the light, she beamed with pride. The first words out of her mouth were, “Do you want me to go get the sweater I have that matches them? I can’t wait to wear them with jeans on the next rainy day.” My answer was a swift, yet polite…..”NO! I mean…no, thank you.”

h1In the end, there are absolutely no words that can adequately describe how much I love my mom and her passion for the holidays. The same goes for the sweaters and the mud heels.The words don’t exist to describe those either.

You really just need to see them for yourself.

I Just Did Not See That One Coming

I have a lot of things to be thankful for. The first, of course, is my son, who brings me a kind of happiness that just can’t be described in words. Quite simply, I worship him. 

IMG_0638I thank God every single day for the gift I was given when Owen came into this world. His wit, his charm, his honesty, his sensitivity, his eccentricities. Just…him. He is truly my greatest joy.

Another great joy in my life is my job. One of the most wonderful aspects of being a teacher is when I get the opportunity to see former students grow up to become happy, successful adults. As an 8th grade teacher, there are few things I enjoy more than running into the once awkward, moody, hormone infested teenagers that not so long ago sat before me in class and seeing how they’ve transformed over the years to become wonderful human beings with thriving careers and children of their own. The special friendships that I’ve formed over the years with some of these “kids” mean the absolute world to me.

Recently two of my greatest joys in life collided when I had the pleasure of running into a student who I taught during my student teaching experience 22 years ago. She’s now 34 years old and has not one, not two, not three, but four children of her own. As is the setting of so many of the fiascos that I find myself writing about, I happened to be at a store with Owen when the encounter took place. At the grocery store, in fact, where I was somewhat unabashedly trying to decide whether I should buy the Crunchy Taco or Four Cheese Lasagna flavored Hamburger Helper to take home and throw together for dinner.

It’s true. Nothing’s too good for my family.

Already plagued by guilt because I was, once again, planning to serve a meal from a box (my son once told one of my friends that he was super impressed that she made homemade cookies because his mother only made cookies from powder that comes in a box), I was trying to be patient with him as he chattered on and on and on and on and on and…on about his latest Pokemon card purchase. When the conversation about the cards reached the official 25 minute mark, I decided it was time to beg him to please, for the love of all that was holy and pure, stop talking, just for one darn second, so that I could concentrate on the Hamburger Helper. And no…the profound sadness of that statement is not lost on me, but a decision had to be made (taco or lasagna flavored seasoning packet?) and I simply was not going to be able to make such an important call if my mind was clouded with thoughts about Pokemon water type attack moves…it just wasn’t.

I can only imagine how ridiculous I must have looked standing there in that aisle while holding each of the Hamburger Helper boxes about an inch from my face. As it turned out, I’d forgotten my reading glasses in the car, and in order to read the mouth watering descriptions on the boxes of powdered goodness, I had to do what I had to do.

And that, unfortunately, is the position I was frozen in when I heard a familiar voice say, “Miss St. Louis?” Still holding the boxes in the air, I turned my head to see the world’s most adorable family standing side by side in the aisle beside me. The first thought that struck me was that each of the children, though very clearly different ages and heights, looked nearly identical. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a set of nesting dolls all dressed in beautiful cream colored shirts with different variations of blue plaid pants and skirts. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they’d just stepped out of the cover shoot for Town and Country Magazine. The most interesting part was that two of the children were holding chapter books in their hands and were lost in reading. They hadn’t even looked up when their mom had stopped to talk.

I recognized my former student immediately, embraced her, and after a very quick discussion about how neat it was to be running into each other after 22 years, and a somewhat unexpected declaration from her that she was at the store looking for goat cheese for an organic recipe she was making (this revelation made the fact that I was still holding two boxes of Hamburger Helper all the more mortifying), the conversation turned to our children. She introduced all four of her beautiful little cherubs and they all smiled brightly and said their hellos. I commented on how impressed I was that two of them were reading in the grocery store and their mom assured me that reading was a passion for her children and then mentioned, as an aside, that they did not watch television or play video games. I would have started to explain my son’s limited exposure to video games, but the fact that he was standing there wearing a Minecraft t-shirt at that very moment seemed to speak for itself. Oops.

And that’s when the real fun began.

Realizing it was probably time for me to introduce my son, the one I just absolutely adore, the child who makes me proud in one million ways every single day, the same one I am always so eager to show off to the world…I was more than a little alarmed when I looked over to see him leaning up against a display of Rice-A-Roni, eyes lifted to the ceiling as if he were concentrating really hard on something, and while he was holding Pokemon cards in one hand, with the other he appeared to be using his index finger to drill holes into his head in a frantic circular motion.

What happened next is truly one of life’s mysteries.

The next thing I knew I was watching my child, who, because of the look on his face and the strangely contorted position of his body, looked more like a character from a Stephen King novel (you know, the creepy one in the insane asylum who’s crouched in the corner playing with a Jack-in-the-Box?) than a nine year old boy as he stood there twisting and turning a matted ball of his hair just above his temple.

Honestly, I would have been less horrified if he’d been picking his nose.

Thinking it couldn’t possibly get worse, I stepped toward him and asked, “Owen, what in the world are you doing?”

Are you ready for this?

With my former student and her choir of neat, clean, beautiful little angels watching intently, he removed his index finger from the knot he’d made in his hair to reveal a clump of brown gunk on the end of his finger. The very same finger that he then lifted to his nostrils and began sniffing.

Yes, I said sniffing.

When he was done taking several nice long whiffs, and with the brown stuff now outlining his nose, he held that finger out to me and asked, “Mom, does this smell like chocolate pudding to you?”

I can’t be sure, but I think I lost consciousness. The next thing I remember, my maternal instincts kicked in, and making the sudden realization that perhaps he was bleeding, I quickly grabbed his head and began looking for some kind of open wound. It’s going to make me sound like the world’s worst mother, but an open wound would have been more welcomed than what I found amid the mass of brown goop that was still dripping from his head.

Because what I found was a peanut.

That’s right. A peanut.

Though it took awhile, I eventually regained my ability to speak, and asked him where he thought he might have come into contact with chocolate pudding and peanuts over the course of his day. However, it seemed that he was as dumbfounded as I was and had absolutely no idea where he might have been in the general vicinity of either item. Seeing as we had been home together pretty much all day long, and knowing for a fact that there was no trace of either ingredient in our home, we were both at an absolute loss.

Completely flabbergasted, I decided that that moment was as good a time as any to introduce my son to my long lost student and her children. So, in as dignified a manner as was possible in a moment like that, Owen and I turned to look in their direction. The first thing I noticed was that both of the kids who had at one time been reading their books like their lives depended on it, now held each of the novels down by their hips as they stood wide eyed and gaping at my son. And while I’m not completely certain, I’m pretty sure the other three (mom included) took a few steps backward when we turned to face them.

Determined to have my moment to shine, I introduced Owen to the clan. To his credit, he was super polite…so polite in fact that he made the very valiant effort to swipe his index finger down the front of his Minecraft t-shirt in one long stroke to rid it of any excess pudding before reaching out to shake hands with my former student. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of him, and I really mean it.

I’m also not sure I’ve ever seen a more awkward handshake exchanged between two people in my entire life.

On my drive home I recapped the events of the last 20 minutes. I’d had the pleasure of reconnecting with a former student, one who had four children, all impeccably dressed and well behaved, and one who only cooked organic meals for her family. She’d introduced me to her children who had smiled politely and then returned to the novels they were reading or waited patiently for their mom to end her conversation. In turn, she’d had the opportunity to reconnect with her former school marm, one who is 9 years her senior, one who clearly cooks processed meals from a box, and one who has only one child who wears t-shirts displaying video game icons and who finds ways to mysteriously acquire gigantic blobs of chocolate pudding and peanuts in his hair without having the slightest clue how it happened.

As many of my current 8th graders would say, “Seems legit.”

In all of my 42 years on this planet, I have never, not even once, thought that the combination of chocolate and peanuts was a bad idea. Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups? Oh yes, I’m a huge fan. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies? Absolutely, bring them on. And finally, anybody who knows me can attest to the fact that I’ve always considered Dairy Queen’s Peanut Buster Parfaits to be the closest thing to Heaven this side of the Pearly Gates.

But chocolate pudding and a peanut in my son’s hair…in the middle of the supermarket…while meeting one of my former students? I just did not see that one coming.

Here’s to Jeanie…

“Got a problem with earwax? I was about your age, I figure, when I started having problems with earwax.”

Those were the first words out of the mouth of an elderly gentleman when he approached me in the Diabetic Needs, Ear Care & Bladder Control aisle on one of my recent trips to Target. Not wanting to be rude, but also not entirely sure I’d heard him correctly, I turned my head and simply said, “Excuse me?”

Seeming to have fully confirmed his suspicion that my ears were indeed chock full of wax, he took a few steps closer to me, got up on his tiptoes (still not sure why he did that since he was already about a foot taller than I am), cupped his hands around his mouth like he was getting ready to cheer on a batter at home plate, and loudly stated, “YOU MUST BE HAVING A PROBLEM WITH EARWAX! I WAS ABOUT YOUR AGE WHEN THAT SAME DARN THING WITH EARWAX STARTED HAPPENING TO ME. IT’S A ROUGH THING, THAT EARWAX!”

Now, I ask you…how is one supposed to respond to a declaration like that? My first instinct was to simply request that he please, for the love of God, stop saying the word earwax. My second, which is the route I ended up choosing, was to explain that no, it was not a relief to earwax I was seeking, but earplugs. Appearing openly disappointed that I wasn’t being plagued by serious earwax issues, he inquired further, “You tryin’ to avoid swimmer’s ear or is someone snorin’?”

This man, as it turned out, asked a lot of personal questions.

A few seconds into my explanation of why I was looking to buy earplugs (I still can’t tell you just exactly why I felt compelled to explain my purchase to him) I became aware of a woman’s voice, bordering on a shriek, calling, “Clark! Clark? Clark!? Where in the Hell are you this time? CLARK!” Having no idea that the man in front of me was, in fact, the Clark that the voice was so desperately seeking, I assumed it was a disgruntled parent looking for a child and continued with my explanation.

It was at that very moment that a red and sliver scooter came screeching to a halt at the end of the aisle. The woman driving the scooter had a bright red, shiny face that indicated her anger even before she spoke. Pointing directly at my new friend, she bellowed, “YOU!” and backed the scooter up until she disappeared almost completely out of sight…beep…beep…beep. Then, just like in a scene from a movie, she came cruising around the corner at full speed (at least a good 5 mph) and headed straight for Clark. When she’d driven the 6 or 7 feet and arrived at her destination, she came to a dead stop, shot an angry look my way, zeroed back in on Clark, and not so daintily exclaimed, “Well, Hell!” In response, Clark, who appeared completely unaffected by the scene, simply shrugged his shoulders and stated, “Sorry Jeanie, I just got sidetracked.”

Seeming determined to make an awkward scene just that much more uncomfortable, Jeanie switched gears (not literally, thank God, as the front wheel of the scooter was dangerously close to my newly painted toes) and turned her wrath on me. She looked me up and down, clenched the handles of the scooter just a bit more tightly (if it had been a motorcycle she was sitting on this would have been the equivalent of revving the engine I should think), spun her head back around to Clark and commanded, “When you’re done flirting with Little Miss Bedroom Eyes here, maybe you could come help me find my creams!” And with that, she was off.

The last image I had of Jeanie was of her zipping away on her scooter. I’m 100% sure that if that woman could have gotten up the speed to pull off a pop-a-wheelie on that thing as she shot away from us, she most certainly would have. As I watched her go, I found myself staring directly into the eyes of two kittens playing with an oversized ball of pink yarn, their images outlined in silver sequins on the back of Jeanie’s shirt. Anyone familiar with my history with cats knows that this was a very clear sign that things did not bode well for me. Not well at all.

As it turned out, I was right. The very first words out of Clark’s mouth after Jeanie rounded the corner and disappeared out of sight were, “Hey, don’t worry about her, she’s just grouchy these days because her hemorrhoids keep acting up in this heat.”

Too much information, Clark. Too. Much. Information.

For the second time that day I found myself stunned to silence, and though I searched desperately, I just wasn’t able to come up with a single response that seemed even remotely suitable for the occasion. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be able to pull off a really heartfelt, “Oh, that’s a real bummer.” And, while I thought trying to relate to her situation might be the polite thing to do, somehow saying, “Been there, done that,” just didn’t seem all that soothing either. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheeks (whether it was to keep from laughing or dry heaving I still can’t be sure) and turned my full attention to a pair of Dr. Scholl’s socks that claimed to be the best product in existence for the circulatory health of anyone suffering from diabetes. The silence that hung in the air was interrupted only by the sound of Jeanie’s motor as she zoomed down another aisle.

Since all good things must come to an end, it was at that point that Clark simply gave me one last sideways glance, shrugged his shoulders again, and wandered off in pursuit of Jeanie’s creams. At least that’s where he should have been headed if he knew what was good for him.

As I tried to turn my attention back to the very elegant selection of earplugs after watching Clark wander away, I noticed for the first time a mother and her young daughter standing in front of the display of sugar free candies. The little girl was watching me pretty intently, so I assumed they must have witnessed the classy little scenario that had just played itself out. Trying to make light of the situation, I was just about to cross my fingers, hold them up in the air and whisper, “Good luck, Clark!” but before I could, the little girl turned away from me, looked up at her mother, and asked, “What are bedroom eyes anyway?” As you might imagine, the mom was not happy. Fiercely grabbing her daughter’s hand, she shot a stern look of disapproval in my direction and stormed off.

So, there I was. Alone. Thoroughly confused. And as luck would have it, surrounded by a massive and downright disturbing display of incontinence products all vowing to look, fit and feel like real underwear. It may just have been one of the most pathetic moments of my life. So many things had gone wrong in the last two minutes that I didn’t know where to begin counting. I’d disappointed Clark by not having a real problem with earwax, I’d angered Jeanie just by looking at her, and I’d made a mother upset by putting her in the position of having to explain what bedroom eyes are to her child. The fact that I’d committed all of these wrongs unintentionally didn’t seem to help.

Later in the afternoon, while scarfing down the last of the sugar free chocolate candy I’d purchased in my moment of despair, I was still thinking about the strange turn of events that had taken place on my otherwise routine trip to Target. However, it wasn’t just my unsettling interaction with Clark and Jeanie that I was pondering. No.That would be somewhat understandable. Instead, what I found myself contemplating was the fact that in my 42 years on this planet, I’d been called Bedroom Eyes exactly twice in my life.

And both times by elderly women.

I know…there I go bragging again. But honestly, how many people can actually make that claim?

The first time was on Christmas Day when I was 16 and was reintroduced to my best friend’s grandmother. I remember her hearing my name, rolling herself across the kitchen floor in her wheelchair, and taking a good long look at me before saying, “Ooooh yes, I remember you. You’re the one with those bedroom eyes!” At the time I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but the look on my mother’s face was priceless when I went home and asked her what it meant if someone had bedroom eyes. Better yet, I especially remember her expression when, after asking me why I wanted to know, I told her it was because Heather’s grandmother told me I had a pair.

That was a long time ago, and in my quest to get this story written down, I took the liberty to Google the exact definition of the term Bedroom Eyes.

Ginormous mistake.

While most of the descriptions I found were far too scandalous for my little PG rated blog, I did find one or two that I could use. According to my research, and I quote, “Bedroom eyes refer to a heavy-lidded or half-shut eye, reminiscent of a hazy, dreamy look shared during intimate moments. Bedroom eyes is a term often used to describe how a person looks at another when filled with longing and anticipation of…”

Okay, that’s just about enough.

You simply can’t imagine how wretched it makes me feel to think that Jeanie took one look at me and decided that I’d clearly set my sights on Clark. In my defense, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was a little hard to resist all that talk about earwax and hemorrhoids, but I swear I was doing my best to keep things platonic. And maybe, just maybe, if the setting hadn’t been so darn romantic with all the adult diaper packages boldly displaying happy couples who were secretly wearing belted undergarments and plastic underpants, I would’ve been a little less likely to turn on the charm right then and there. I mean, come on, there’s only so much talk about leakage barriers a girl can take before she’s forced to act on her impulses and start throwing sultry looks around the geriatrics aisle of the local department store.

Considering the circumstances, I think I did one heck of a job keeping my behavior in check.

Truth be told, the “heavy-lidded or half-shut eye, reminiscent of a hazy, dreamy look shared during intimate moments” that Jeanie saw in my eyes was actually the result of not having had a good night’s sleep in months. I was heavy-lidded alright, but not because Clark got my hormones raging. The fact of the matter was, Clark was right, there was someone at my house who snored and the earplugs I was so desperate to buy were my attempt to solve the problem. And as far as displaying any “looks filled with longing and anticipation”? I can assure you that those looks were directed at the earplugs themselves. After all, they were, perhaps, my ticket to finally being able to get some much needed shuteye. But hey, if someone wants to confuse my overtired, worn out look of exhaustion and fatigue with a look of passion, desire and seduction, then so be it. Who am I to argue?

Anyway, here’s to Jeanie…..I sure hope she was able to “find some relief” in that heat.

Timing is Everything

Timing. It’s a funny thing when you think about it.

I don’t mean funny as in LOL or funny as in hardy har har. I mean funny as in bizarre. Strange. Extremely unfortunate.  Good timing is often given credit for helping people begin new relationships or careers; two of the most important contributing factors to a person’s happiness and well being. On the other hand, bad timing is often blamed for the demise of those very same things. We’ve all heard people say, “He/she would have been just perfect for me, but the timing was all wrong,” or “If the timing had been right, that job could have been mine.” And let’s not forget split second timing…the kind that wins or loses races for athletes. The same kind of timing, I swear, that makes the difference between really great tasting microwave popcorn or the charred remnants that make you think you’ve accidentally fed yourself ashes straight from a fire pit.

And then, my friends, there’s the kind of timing that simply can’t be described in words. It’s the kind that allows a UPS delivery man the opportunity to overhear an innocent, but nonetheless disastrous comment you’ve made through your open bathroom window on a rainy summer morning.

Oh yes, timing is everything.

Please…allow me to set the scene. This morning was a typical one at the Field house. Morning exercise rituals had been carried out, breakfasts had been eaten, and dishes had been cleaned and put away. My son and I were looking forward to a day filled with school supply shopping and lunch at a favorite eating spot. Having already showered and dressed, I was anxious to get a move on. Setting a fresh towel on the window sill for him to use when he was done, I asked him to please come into the bathroom to take a shower so we could get going. As he walked down the hallway he popped his head in and gave me the same response to that request that he’d already given me several times this morning, “Okay Mom, just give me a sec!”

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that he’s responded to me with that same statement about 3,948,509 times this summer. And you know what? I wasn’t in the mood to wait today. I just wasn’t. So, summoning my most authoritative tone, I loudly complained, “All I’ve been doing all morning long is giving you extra secs and I’m tired of it, now come in here and take a shower!” Even though my hands were still gesturing wildly from the dramatic air quotes I’d put around the word secs, the impact of what I’d said still managed to fully embrace me. I heard the unintended inappropriateness of it the second I said it. And so, surely, did the young man in the brown UPS uniform, who at that very moment in time, had the misfortune to be dropping off my new jeans on the back steps. The back steps that were only about 4 feet from the open bathroom window. The very same open bathroom window out of which I had actually just bellowed the words, “All I’ve been doing all morning long is giving you extra secs.”

Sweet Mother of God…what had I done?

Wanting to, as quickly as possible, right the very tragic wrong that was unfolding, I frantically pulled up the screen so I could stick my head out the window and show my face. I wanted the young man to see me while I politely and casually explained that all was not as it seemed…or rather, all was not as it sounded. My intent was to provide a calm and reasonable explanation of what he had just overheard. Unfortunately, any amount of intended serenity for that moment went out the window (if you will) when, by the time I pulled myself together to speak, I realized he was already down the steps and halfway across the walkway leading to our driveway. For some strange reason he appeared to be in a real hurry to get out of there. Frazzled and panicked, I stuck my head as far out that window as possible, and in the same frenzied voice that a parent trying to keep a child from running out into traffic would use, I screeched, “Just to clarify, I’m actually talking to my son in here!”

Yes. Well done. That made things all kinds of better.

For the second time in 20 seconds I realized the catastrophic implications of what I’d said and the downright failure of my use of language. As I dangled there awkwardly, I struggled to maintain my dignity as much as I struggled to maintain the balance of my full weight on my hips as they rested on the window sill. That unfortunate image, I’m afraid, is the last thing that poor driver saw as he halfheartedly waved over his shoulder, tossed me only the briefest of backward glances, and went into full scamper mode before disappearing around the side of my house.

What was I to do? After a quick scan to the left and right to make sure none of my neighbors were anywhere around, and in as refined a fashion as was humanly possible given the position I was in (imagine the elegance and grace an elephant might exhibit while making its way around a ropes course), I finagled the upper half of my body back inside the bathroom and slid the screen window back into place. Trying to figure out what my next move should be, I turned to face my inquisitive son who, as it turned out, was still standing in the bathroom door looking thoroughly confused. 2829310-630x383Torn between whether I wanted to run out the front door to see if I could catch the UPS driver (who at that point was very likely burning rubber to get out of my neighborhood) or respond to my son when he asked, “What just happened here?” I decided to answer his question. Knowing that the specific set of circumstances I found myself in at that moment didn’t exactly lend themselves to introducing the topic of the birds and the bees in the gentlest of ways, I decided to go the completely irrational route. Hands on hips, chin lifted in the air to appear somewhat virtuous, I responded, “He obviously thought I was going to the bathroom in here, and I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t.” With a somewhat incredulous stare, he said, “Mom, that doesn’t even make sense!” Becoming increasingly panicked and desperate, I furthered my explanation by making even less sense. ”Wouldn’t you be embarrassed if you thought the UPS man heard you peeing when it’s just about to rain?”

What?

And with that I stormed out of the bathroom and down the hall, but not before I looked over my shoulder and said accusingly, “None of this would have happened in the first place if you’d just taken a shower when I asked you to!”

There. I showed him. So much for remaining calm and reasonable.

So here it is, only a few short hours later, and as I sit here on the couch half expecting the authorities to show up at any moment, I can’t help but think about timing. It really is a funny thing when you think about it. In fact, any other Wednesday I might end a post by stating that I hope everyone enjoyed a happy hump day…but somehow, on this particular Wednesday…the timing just doesn’t seem right.