It Wasn’t Easy At All

“What did you just say?”

I could hardly believe the words that had spewed from the mouth of my precious four year old son as we began pulling out of the Staples parking lot. The hideous silence that filled the air after he’d said them made me immediately nauseous. Desperate to calm the pangs of panic that were poisoning my thoughts, I slammed on the brakes, put my car in park, and turned to face him.

“Say that again. Tell me what you just said!”

Looking somewhat startled, he lifted his little finger, pointed directly ahead at a man who was walking his dog in an empty section of the parking lot, and repeated the ugly words. “I said, ‘Look at that weirdo!’

Worst fears confirmed, and already, it seemed, in full meltdown mode as a result of the emotions waging battle inside my body, I tried to get a grip on exactly what I was feeling so I could figure out what to do next. Anger and disappointment raged through me since it was the first time I’d experienced my little boy saying something deliberately unkind. I could only assume that the short quick breaths I was suddenly and involuntarily taking were my body’s effort to keep my heart from exploding. Another feeling that overwhelmed me, and the one that seemed to deal the final blow, was despair. Despair resulting from the realization that my son had, without my knowledge, come to not only be familiar with the word weirdo and its meaning, but had actually used it when speaking about another human being.

Curly-slideAs is often the case, my anxiety took over and I immediately began thinking of every possible worst case scenario to explain how my little guy had become familiar with the term. Choking on images of him being surrounded on the playground by sticky faced three and four year old thugs mercilessly chanting, “Weirdo! Weirdo!” over and over again while they backed him up against the bright red curly slide, I made up my mind to write a strongly worded letter to the director of his daycare. The high likelihood that the children in those images all wore various versions of Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine overalls made their behavior no less a crime as far as I was concerned. I made a vow right then and there that if it was the last thing I ever did, I would see to it that those little heathens were punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Though it wasn’t easy, I forced the imagined playground war out of my mind and returned to the matter at hand. In a voice I almost didn’t recognize as my own, I began my inquisition. “Where did you hear that word, Owen? WHERE?”

Having gone from looking somewhat startled to downright confused, he wrinkled his little forehead, looked at me from behind the most adorable brown eyes, and tried to explain. “I heard it from…I don’t know, Mom…me. I just said it!”

Not believing a word of it, I pushed further. “Owen, I want you to tell me where you heard that word, and I want you to tell me right now!

Lips quivering, he looked directly at me, raised his eyes to the ceiling of the car, and after a very long pause whimpered, “Me! I said it, it was just me!”

That was it. I simply couldn’t handle having to deal with the fact that in the last 45 seconds I’d been forced to cope with the reality that my child had clearly been bullied without my knowledge, and as a result, had learned to make mean comments about others. The last thing I could handle at that moment was him lying to me, too.

The fact that he had a terrible cold and was in the middle of a fairly impressive sneezing fit gave me time to think. I tried to remember that the situation I was in would very likely be the first of many difficult conversations I’d need to have about bullying in the years to come, and I knew I needed to handle the situation with care. Reminding myself that the smartest thing to do was to remain cool, calm and collected, I did my best to stifle my fury, panic, and sadness so I could do some detective work.

Except that’s not what I did at all. Instead, I lost it.

Unbuckling my seatbelt like a criminal getting ready to make a break for it at the end of a police chase, I whipped around, leaned as far into the backseat as I could, and loudly demanded, “Don’t you dare lie to me, Owen! Don’t you daaaaare! I want you to tell me where you heard that word and I want you to tell me RIGHT NOW!”

The startled and confused expressions he’d worn only moments before had been nothing compared to the terrified look that had replaced them. The fact that his face looked like it had been smeared with vanilla pudding because of the snot streaming down his cheeks made me feel little sympathy, but because I could stand the stricken look on his face no longer, I abruptly turned back around and took my frustration out on the steering wheel.

And that’s when the howling began.

Up until that point in his life, my son had never had any reason to engage in a full out sob session. Normally, if he cried at all, he worked up to it like a teapot coming to a boil; it simmered for a second and then lost its steam. Most of the time it was over as quickly as it began. But not this time. No. This time it sounded like someone repeatedly throwing fireworks drenched in lighter fluid into a wood stove; the cries were explosive and excruciatingly unyielding.

The sounds that filled the air inside that car were unlike any I’d ever heard, and after about a minute, I couldn’t take one more second of it. Releasing my grip from the steering wheel, I struggled to relax my shoulders as well as my own pained expression before turning to face him again. This time, however, the look on his face made me think that somehow, something wasn’t right. I can’t put into words just exactly what it was that I saw there on his face, but deep down, I realized I’d overlooked something. I was looking to solve a puzzle, but there was a piece missing.

I needed to find that missing piece and I needed to find it quickly.

As I waited for his shrieks to cease, I did my best to look at him calmly. Once the tears stopped and the bellows subsided into a series of gasps as he tried to catch his breath,  I decided to test my own voice and hoped like heck that I could keep it steady. Praying he was no longer terrified, I reached back, rubbed his knee, and said, “Owen, I didn’t mean to scare you, but you’ve made Mommy really sad.” Even before I was able to complete the sentence, his eyebrows shot up causing his eyes to form slits. Because his lashes were still drenched from all the tears, it gave the impression that his eyes had been drawn in ink. The cartoonish image only added to surreal nature of the moment. However, his look of consternation served as further proof that all was not as it seemed.

Not wanting to revisit the trauma of the last two minutes, I mustered up the courage to ask the question I desperately needed answered. This time, rather than asking him to tell me where he’d learned the word weirdo, I decided I’d take another approach. I’d ask him to tell me what he’d said and why, and try to get to the bottom of it that way. Using hushed tones reminiscent of those I’d used when rocking him to sleep as an infant, I carefully began my questioning. “Owen, I want you to tell me one more time what you said when you saw that man walking his dog.”

There it was again. That look of obvious confusion. But this time his face was drowning in it. The cartoonish expression he’d displayed only moments before now looked warped and out focus, but before I got the chance to speak, he stretched his body forward to try to look out the front window. Once again pointing his finger in the direction of the empty section of the parking lot, he said, “I wasn’t talking about the man walking the dog, I was talking about the sign. Look at the weird L!”

This time it was my turn to be stricken.

“Look at the wha…?” But again, before I was even able to finish my question, I saw it. I saw the Staples sign.

images-1The sign with the weird L.

And I wanted to die.

As invisible chains of guilt coiled around my body like vicious snakes and rendered me helpless, I sat motionless as the puzzle I’d been trying to solve came together with ferocious clarity. Oh, I’d missed something alright. I’d missed the fact that my son, who was on day five of a pretty bad cold, was having trouble pronouncing his words because he was so stuffed up. What I’d heard as “weirdo” was actually “weird L”.

Merciful Heavens.

Until the age of four, the most upsetting event in my child’s life had been the moment he’d realized that Greg, the character who wore the yellow shirt on The Wiggles, had been replaced by another man who didn’t quite cut the mustard as far as my little guy was concerned. imagesBut I changed all that one day in early December 2008. The same day I realized, as I bawled my brains out all the way home from Staples, that parents are simply not perfect. Sometimes the things we’re the most frightened of our kids discovering are the very topics we expose them to ourselves. All the way home the images of his darling little face contorted in fear played over and over in my mind like a broken reel of film, while his husky little voice stuttering,”Me! I said it….it was just me!” echoed painfully in my ears.

The realization that I’d repeatedly accused my four year old child of lying to me when all he was trying to do was make conversation still makes me sick. In my attempt to protect him after assuming the worst, I’d managed to do just the opposite. I’d allowed my own insecurities, angsts, and fears to rule my thoughts. The bottom line was, he hadn’t learned an unkind word from another child. He’d learned it from me. And he hadn’t been bullied on the playground by kids at his daycare. He’d been bullied by me.

The reality of those truths haunt me to this very day.

When all was said and done, I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to hear that the first question out of my son’s mouth after successfully pointing out the sign with the weird L was, “What did you think I said?” I’d had to make the very quick decision to either be honest or lie to cover my tracks. At the end of the day,  I chose to take the honest route because he deserved an explanation of my behavior. I’d scared the heck out of him and it was important to me that I make him understand, even in some small way, why I’d become so easily and quickly upset.

As I sit here and reflect on that day, it literally makes me laugh out loud to think about the fact that only an hour before that unfortunate event in the parking lot, I’d thought the most horrifying part of my day would be the moment when, after tasting a sample of pumpkin pie offered to him by an employee at Sam’s Club, my son had looked at me and loudly exclaimed, “Mom! I’m going to ask Santa to bring me pumpkin pie for Christmas!” Come on, let’s be honest. What child is so desperate for really good baked goods that he feels the need to resort to asking Santa for them?

Dear God.

Having said all of that, while I will never claim to be worthy of the title of Mother of the Year, I’ve certainly learned a lot about parenting in the last few years. I’ve learned that while it’s the single most rewarding role I will ever play, it’s also the most terrifying. My need to protect my son from the ugliness that he will no doubt encounter as he makes his way through life is always simmering just below the surface of my mind. I used to think that another role that I play, the one of a middle school teacher, made me more sensitive to issues like bullying and cruelty toward others, but in the end, I realize that the truth is….all bets are off when it comes to being a mom. I know I can’t protect my little guy from all the evils in the world, but what I can do is work to help him gain the tools he’ll need to handle them when they do rear their ugly heads. More importantly, I can provide him with as much love, laughter, and exposure to all that is wonderful about this thing called life as I possibly can. After doing so, I’ll only be able to hope that when he does face dark times, he’ll have the confidence and experience to face them with strength, character, and courage.

images-2So…what’s the ultimate irony here?

Just beyond the doors of a company that has made the motto that was easy. a common expression among Americans, I ended up having one of the most difficult and heartbreaking conversations of my life. And even though it’s an experience that all these years later is now just one of many memorable moments in my life as a mom, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all.

Remembering Ralph

I’ve run out of gas while driving on the open road exactly 6 times in the 26 years that I’ve had a driver’s license.

When I was a teenager, I purposely left food on the plates that I’d wash just so my parents would lose faith in my ability to clean and I’d no longer be expected to do dishes.

I’ve never been on time for anything in my life. I was even ten minutes late for my own wedding.

While I’m at it, I might as well confess that I once drained half a can of warm Diet Coke into a houseplant before tossing it into the recycling bin because I was just too lazy to trudge all the way to the other side of the kitchen to empty it into the sink.

My point? I’m not a good person. I’m just not. I’m irresponsible, and most of the time I’m far too lazy than what is deemed socially acceptable.

It’s true, I’m a real catch. Everybody says so.

Add to all those impressive characteristics the fact that I’ve never had a fondness for any living creature that cannot be labeled a homo-sapien, and it’s no surprise whatsoever that I would definitely not make a great pet owner. The idea that the only real pet my son has ever, and most likely will ever know (at least while he lives at home) was a red Beta fish named Ralph, makes me sad…..but not sad enough to ever want another pet. It used to simultaneously rip my heart to shreds and make me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe when I’d overhear him talking to Ralph about the ending of a book he’d just finished or excitedly showing off a new toy and explaining how it worked.

Last April we had an ant problem in our house, and for some reason, God love them, the darn things always ended up floating upside down in Ralph’s tank. They would climb the cord of the filter and then fall to their doom and drown in the water.

After placing just under three million ant traps around the house, it didn’t take long for our apparent infestation to come to an end, but to me that made no difference. I was still uneasy about how many had been found in that tank, so more often than not, each night before getting ready for bed, I’d check the fish tank to make sure it was clear. On one particular night, I breathed my regular sigh of relief that there was no sign of the disgusting little creatures, and started to walk out of the room. However, as I made my retreat, I suddenly had a weird feeling that something wasn’t quite right, so I turned around and checked the tank again.

That’s when I realized that not only were there no ants…there was no Ralph either.

Trying not be be alarmed, but never having dealt with a missing fish, I surveyed that tank somewhat frantically from every God forsaken angle. I poked behind the rocks to see if he’d somehow gotten crushed, shifted the plastic plants to make sure he hadn’t become tangled up somehow, and all but broke my neck in a desperate attempt to angle my head in just the right way so I could get a good look under the filter.

The bottom line? Ralph was nowhere to be found.

At the time of this unexpected discovery, my son was in the shower and my husband was having dinner with friends, so I was alone and desperate. I couldn’t imagine having to tell Owen that Ralph had “somehow disappeared” especially since there was absolutely no question that I would be the prime suspect in the fish napping. Unfortunately, it had only been a matter of days since I’d been overheard complaining that Ralph made my skin crawl. Come on, what was I supposed to say after accidentally catching a glimpse of this humongous gap in his side that should have appeared on Ripley’s Believe it or Not! for looking like the world’s most gigantic paper cut whenever he moved his fins? It was seriously grotesque.

To make matters worse, Beta fish have these disturbing beady little eyes that I may or may not have pointed out in a moment of rage one evening when I was 100% sure Ralph was staring at me on purpose from inside his tank. I will never be convinced it was a just a coincidence that every time my son or husband put their faces up to the tank, Ralph hightailed (highfinned?) away and darted behind some plastic shrubbery, but the few times I was alone in the room with him just minding my own business while getting ready to feed him some vile smelling fish flakes, I’d put my face up against the glass and he’d float there defiantly in place glaring back at me. RDuring my most recent run in with him, he’d actually sneered (well…bobbed frantically) as if to say, “You’d better sleep with one eye open, Sister.” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that fish squinted his beady black eyes, tossed his head back, and let loose an evil gurgle in a moment of sheer triumph as I shrieked in horror and sprinted from the room. The terrifying image of that fish lurking in its tank at that moment is rivaled only by the image of a possessed Linda Blair at the height of her exorcism.

Yes. It was just that traumatic.

Nevertheless, despite being terrorized by the darn thing on a regular basis (okay, three times), I would never have harmed a hair on Ralph’s little…fin, I just wouldn’t. Knowing that I couldn’t break the news that Ralph was missing to my son all by myself because he would be just absolutely devastated, I decided I was going to have to be the drama queen wife and summon my husband home from his night of revelry with friends. However, before I made the call to request assistance in the crisis at hand, I wanted to do one last check of the tank to make sure that Ralph was really truly gone.

And that’s when I saw him.

Thinking that the big dark blob on the floor near the fish tank was some giant beetle that had come to finish me off, I prepared for battle and raised my foot to stomp on it, but for whatever reason, I gathered my wits together before I did so, and realized that what my foot was about to clamp down on was, in fact, the shriveled remains of Ralph.

I was absolutely horrified. Since then I’ve discovered that Beta fish like to jump….and that appears to be what Ralph did. He plunged to his death and landed right beside Owen’s Lego mini-figure leprechaun. You can’t imagine how wretched it makes me feel to imagine Ralph passing away while staring into the eyes of a yellow faced leprechaun (beady eyes staring into beady eyes) right there in the middle of the floor.

As luck would have it, however (maybe it was the leprechaun?), as I was frantically trying to figure out what to do, I heard my husband pull into the driveway just as my son was finishing up his shower. I was able to fill him in on what had happened, and within just a few minutes we were having a family meeting on the living room couch. Family meetings are reserved for only the most serious of conversations, so when my son sat down looking concerned and worried, my nose started to run and my own tears began to flow. Knowing that we were about to break his little heart and share the death of his first pet with him just absolutely destroyed me. I was so upset that I honestly couldn’t speak, so my husband ended up having to deliver the news that Ralph was no longer with us because he had somehow managed to jump out of the tank.

After hearing the news, Owen’s precious little face twisted and contorted in all kinds of directions, and I prepared for the dramatic scene that I just knew was coming. Leaning forward in his chair, he pressed his chest to his knees, rocked in place for a second, and then just before he finally spoke, he sprang to his feet, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and exclaimed, “And I wanted a CAT! We can’t even get a fish to want to live with us, and I wanted a cat!” Absolutely stunned by his statement, and between two violent blows of my nose, I managed to say, “What Owen?”

I think it was at that moment that he first realized I was crying, and in a move that I will honestly remember as one of the most tender moments of my life, my nine year old little boy leaned over, smiled into my eyes, tapped me gently on the knee, and then whispered  “It’s okay, Mom. Ralph had a great run,” into my ear.

I was absolutely dumbfounded.

Perhaps I’ve watched too many Hallmark movies, but in the ten minutes between discovering Ralph and breaking the news to Owen, I’d imagined comforting him as he howled into my arms, rocking him back and forth deep into the night, and holding cold compresses to his head after the wave of hysteria passed, all the while convincing him that yes, he would need to go to school the next day because life, after all, had to go on.

Instead, he was pretty much telling me to get a grip. I simply could not believe it.

The finale of that very bizarre scene took place when Owen popped up and headed back into his room after giving me one more kiss on the cheek. But before he got all the way there, he came back down the hall, poked his head around the corner, and grinning from ear to ear, inquired, “Hey! Can I get a turtle?” My husband and I looked at each other, and even as my mind started thinking of all the times I’d heard that turtles stink to high heaven, I asked, “A turtle? Why a turtle?” He smiled, stepped all the way into the room, and now with a giant smirk on his face confessed, “I don’t really want a turtle, I just wanted to say the word turd without getting in trouble. Get it TURDle?”

Oh, yes. Good times. Nothing cures a moment of despair like a little bathroom humor.

In retrospect, I’m certainly glad my son wasn’t devastated beyond repair by the death of his fish. After all, he’s a little boy and he’ll have the rest of his life to have to deal with disappointment and loss. And while I can’t promise that I won’t ever run out of gas again in my life, and I most definitely can’t promise that I won’t ever be late for another appointment, I can make the promise that I will always be there to help him get through those moments when they do come around.

Since that evening last spring, Owen has never, not even once, asked to get another pet of any kind. The fish tank sits empty, but still in place, and should he ever want another one, we will certainly make that happen.

For now, however, it would seem that he’s pretty content just…remembering Ralph.

What A Difference A Decade Makes

Eating a burrito the size of a small SUV and a 62 year old man with a heavy Maine accent bellowing,”Karyn! Karyn! If this doesn’t break your wat-ah I don’t know what will!”

While they’re definitely not the most glamorous images ever, and there’s certainly no doubt Norman Rockwell would never have been inspired to capture them on canvas, those two seemingly unrelated events are among the most vivid memories I have of the hours leading up to the birth of my one and only child.

The burrito was something I’d been craving for five days straight, and to make darn sure  I’d get my hands on one, I’d made two frantic phone calls to my husband while he was at work ever so politely threatening him within an inch of his life if he forgot to stop and get me the mountain of meat, beans, and cheese wrapped in two tons of flour for dinner that night.

And the dignified declaration about my water breaking? That occurred when I went to see Meet the Fockers with my husband and parents. We’d all seen Meet the Parents a few years before and wanted to have one last outing before my son, 61102632_MeettheFockers_800x445-thumb-800x445-653 who was scheduled to be born three days later, came into the world. The movie was absolutely hysterical, and as I’ve established in past blog posts, my father’s etiquette in a movie theater left a lot to be desired. Let’s just say he wasn’t a quiet creature when it came to going to the movies, and true to life, that evening, every single time (and I do mean EVERY God forsaken time) the laughter in the theater died down after an especially funny scene, Dad would lean forward in his seat, cup his hands together (otherwise how would people in ALL 50 states hear him I’d like to know?), and in his thick Maine accent, he’d holler that statement for all the world to hear. Like clockwork, immediately following, he’d slap his knee, my mother would shush him loudly, they’d exchange glares and stare each other down for a solid 5 or 6 seconds, and then he’d get back to watching the movie. In no time at all, as luck would have it, the next wave of laughter would hit and the whole process started up again.

My God that was a good time. And by that I mean not at all.

A few days ago my son turned ten. Not only is that just an absolutely unbelievable reality because, as the saying goes, it seems like just yesterday we brought him home from the hospital, but it also forces me to wrap my brain around the fact that I’ve officially been a parent for an entire decade. As a result, over the last few days, I’ve done a lot of thinking, not only about the wonderful memories that my family’s created over the last several years, but more specifically about the events that unfolded in the wee hours of the morning the day my son was born.

The last few weeks before giving birth were filled with frantic efforts to get my classroom ready to be turned over to a long-term sub, getting Christmas taken care of in a way that would be the least exhausting experience for me since I’d all but doubled in size in the last nine months, and taking care of last minute details to ensure that I had everything in place for the day I’d bring my son home from the hospital. And on top of having to deal with all of that, I had a constant fever.

Pac-Man Fever that is.

Please know that in no way do I mean to come across as a braggart, but even at nine months pregnant and with fingers so swollen they rivaled the girth and shape of tree trunks (and had about the same amount of pliancy), I could still play a mean game of Pac-Man.

516GYHZBBHL._SY355_Never having been a particularly avid video game player, there was just something about Pac-Man I’d always  loved. As a result, my husband purchased a little gaming system that connected to our television and gave me the opportunity to partake in one of my favorite past times. It allowed me to forget, even for just an hour or so each night, how uncomfortable I was during those last days of pregnancy. There I’d sit at the end of a stressful day, and after eating a gallon (or seven) of ice-cream, I’d park myself in front of the television and lose myself in the game I’d loved for decades. There were many nights that my husband joined me, but those evenings were always short-lived because I’d accidentally on purpose annihilate his score (swollen digits and all) and he’d get so frustrated that he’d storm off to find something else to do.

Just so we’re clear…I might have been large, but I was still very much in charge.

In charge, that is, until two nights before my son was born and my fingers were so bloated I could hardly hold an eating utensil, button my shirt (probably a blessing in disguise since any and all buttons on my clothing could have been considered deadly weapons at that point), brush my hair, or perform any other task that required curvature of the fingers. Pathetically, I even took to eating ice cream bars instead of having to scoop the delectable treat out of the carton so I wouldn’t have to eat it with a spoon. What does that tell you? 

I’m not proud of it, but that’s the condition I was in one fateful night when my husband, the person whose manhood I’d knowingly and willingly injured time and time again by quadrupling his score each time we played, actually beat me at my beloved Pac-Man. Being able to wrap my hands around that joy stick and play it as expertly as we both knew I could under any other circumstances was just no longer an option. It’s safe to say that by that point in time, if each of my hands had been catapulted into the sky with a rope attached, they would have fit right in with the other balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They were, sadly, just that big.

So…what in God’s name does all of this have to do with giving birth? Well my friends, therein lies the story.

I knew I was going to have a big baby, and because of the fact that I’d spent much of my pregnancy carrying my son in a breech position, we’d decided it would be the safest option to have him delivered through a cesarean section. Though it seemed slightly bizarre to essentially make an appointment to give birth, I’d signed up to have my son on Thursday, December 30, 2004. The only qualm I had about doing so was that I knew I’d always wonder what day he would’ve been born if he’d been able to arrive naturally.

In the end, Owen ended up calling the shots about when his actual birthday would be anyway. Knowing what I know now about him, that comes as no surprise, but on that cold December morning ten years ago, when my water broke and woke me from my sleep, I assure you, surprised is what I was.

After seeing Meet the Fockers, I went home and fell fast asleep, but woke up around 2:00 am. At first I thought I’d simply peed the bed (super classy as usual). Come on, I’d lost control of every other bodily function known to man being the size that I was, so a little pee didn’t send me into a panic. Instead, I got out of bed, and while elegantly teetering into the bathroom (Weebles Wobble, But They Don’t Fall Down!), I apologized profusely all the way down the hall to my husband who was already changing the bed and assuring me that having to do so was no problem at all. No problem until I returned from the bathroom and plunked myself (let’s face it, there was nothing dainty about me at that point) down on the bed and it happened again.

Yes. The pee. It happened again.

Horrified and annoyed that I’d made a mess for the second time in ten minutes, and somewhat baffled that I was unable to stop the steady stream that was flowing down my leg (crossing my legs to stop it was an impossibility, for I was barely able to lift them off the floor to walk in the first place), I heard my husband ask, “Do you think your water broke?

How in the world that thought hadn’t crossed my mind, I simply cannot say, but what I can say for certain is that that’s when the real fun began.

On my way to the hospital I was forced to face the reality that Dad had actually been right after all…my wat-ah really had broken. But to be honest, the process of getting checked into the hospital and making my way to the room where I’d be prepared for surgery was pretty uneventful. There really weren’t a lot of people around since it was only 2:30 in the morning. The only interaction we had at the point was with a friendly nurse who came into the room, took my blood pressure, and asked questions about whether or not we knew the gender of the baby, etc, I even got the option of deciding whether or not I wanted to have the baby delivered immediately by the doctor on call, or wait for my own doctor to come in at 6:00 am. Even though it meant having to hang around for three hours, I opted to wait for my own doctor to see me through the final phase of the whole pregnancy experience. Considering the luck I have with most things in life, and the fact that more often than not I’m skirting the edges of disaster, I was feeling pretty relieved that everything seemed to be going so smoothly.

So naturally, that’s exactly when all Hell broke loose.

As I continued to carry on a conversation with the nurse who was trying desperately to find a vein in which to insert an IV into my cushy arm (she looked just like a baker kneading bread as she searched), I realized my husband hadn’t said much in awhile. Turning my attention from the nurse to the other side of the bed where he was sitting, I discovered the reason.

He was unconscious.

Resembling a marionette on a string who’d been left to fend for itself, there he hovered, somehow maintaining an upright position, but with his head hanging down and his arms dangling at his sides. It was both frightening and hilarious at the very same time. Somewhat alarmed, but biting back a chuckle, I simply turned to the nurse and said, “Ahh, I think my husband might have fainted, could you just make sure he doesn’t fall and hit his head?”

Like Cinderella singing to the birds in the woods, I’d like to think it was my melodious voice that brought him back to consciousness at that very moment, zbut whatever the reason, after I spoke, and as the nurse was crossing the room to give him some support, his head popped up (his skin now a curious shade of green that matched the scrubs he’d been asked to change into) and he said, “Oh wow, that was weird. I was just sitting here and…” Kerplunk. He did a face plant right onto my knees. Full body…face first…laid out flat across the bed I was lying on.

He’d lost consciousness for the second time.

Honestly, if I hadn’t been a witness to what happened next, I never would have believed it.

Similar to so many of the Broadway musicals I’ve seen over the years, a large cast of characters (all in matching outfits) suddenly appeared, two by two, from all sides of the room. Two men wearing identical smiles popped up from out of nowhere, and in perfect synchronicity, picked my husband up and held him steadily in the air between them. Incredulously, I watched as two more nurses came waltzing in holding what looked like a portable massage table. After spinning it around in what seemed like a well choreographed dance number (including a couple of shuffle steps and two or three complete spins) the four people gracefully set him in place on the table and went to work. I wondered if I’d somehow missed the fact that he had a bloody nose when one of them started waving a white cotton cloth under his nostrils. So, as I sat gaping (still in labor I’d like to point out), I asked what the cotton was being used for. Much to my surprise, the nurse explained she was using smelling salts to try to bring him back around. Smelling salts? Seriously? Was I dreaming? Had I been transported back to the 1800s? As I wasn’t aware that smelling salts actually even existed, and I’d only ever heard of them by watching Little House on the Prairie, I half expected Laura Ingalls to come galloping in on a horse followed by a nagging Nellie Olson for God’s sake. I mean, come on, stranger things had already happened.

the_wizard_of_oz_1939_wash_and_brushIt was at that point, after looking over and seeing the poor guy still laid out flat, I was reminded of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her crew finally made it inside the Emerald City. Just the manner in which he was positioned on that table made me think of the scarecrow being stuffed with straw. In fact, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if the doctors and nurses in the room had suddenly burst forth and started singing, “Pat, pat here! Pat, pat there! And a couple of brand new straws! That’s how we keep you young and fair in the merry old land of Oz!” 

No longer able to contain my laughter at the ridiculousness of that image and the sheer outrageousness of the entire situation, I quite literally laughed out loud; a gesture that caught the attention of the medical staff for the first time in several minutes (not to be selfish, but wasn’t I the one who was about to have a baby for crying out loud?). It was a gesture that apparently caught the attention of my husband, too, for once I stopped giggling (abandoned and alone in the corner of the room on my gurney), he sat up on his well cushioned cot, and surrounded not only by an assortment of plush pillows that had been used to aide in his comfort, but also by a small army of medical professionals, he lifted his arm and pointed angrily in my direction. Then, as if he were picking me out of a police line-up, he squinted his eyes, zeroed in on me, and accusingly gurgled, “Oh, yeah? Well, who beat you at Pac-Man two nights ago….HUH?” And with that mature proclamation, his eyes rolled back in his head, his arm sank suddenly down into his lap, and he collapsed backward into the mountain of pillows.

Well, there. He showed me. He’d officially passed out cold for a third and final time.

Because I was bitter about the fact that my thunder was being stolen even as I was trying to give birth, I suddenly found myself compelled to get the last word. I’m not proud of it, but in an attempt to maintain any amount of dignity I might have had left, I hoisted up one shaky, enormous hand, and doing my very best to extend my engorged index finger, I defended my bruised ego by stating as primly as possible, “Once. He beat me once…and only because I couldn’t wrap these hideous fingers around the joy stick!” And then, after getting a rather unexpected and unwelcomed close up view of my fist (which in its current state looked more like a prize winning Easter ham than anything resembling a human body part), I burst into tears.

Yup. Cried like a baby, I did.

And yet…not a single person in that room paid one bit of attention to me. Nope, they just went back to the task of, once again, resurrecting my husband from his unconscious state.

It was truly my darkest hour.

After that things moved pretty quickly. The cast and crew of the climatic scene that was playing itself out before me got out a few more boxes of smelling salts, gave my husband an exorbitant amount of attention and care, and pretty much left me to entertain myself until a doctor came in to tell me that it was time to get my epidural…so, that was fun.

On our way to the operating room, after I’d somewhat loudly been given strict instructions that if I knew what was good for me, I better not as much as flinch while that 10 foot needle was being thrust into my back, it was announced (in hushed tones so as not to upset him) to my husband that he would have a special nurse assigned to him to take care of him “should he feel faint” while the surgery was taking place.

You can imagine my relief.

The bright side of the whole debacle is that, in the end, he did manage to stay upright and conscious during the surgery, and the special nurse that was assigned to him was able to take some really great pictures of the experience for us; pictures we would not otherwise have had.

Owen 041The days following the birth of my son were fairly frightening if I’m being honest. This picture shows what he looked like the very first minute that we brought him home from the hospital. He was asleep in the carseat by the time we got home, and because we didn’t have the slightest clue what in the world should happen next, we let him sleep there until he woke up…five hours later.  Looking back, that was probably my first parenting fail. Not to worry though, the last ten years have been full of many more, each more unbelievable than the one that came before it. Many of them are experiences I’ve written about because even though they don’t display the best parenting skills, they’re stories that I’ll always treasure. Honestly, who would want to forget the time my son used some unexpected items to show off his counting skills in public? Or the time I ran a UPS man from our yard by making him think unseemly things occurred inside my home? Or, most recently, the time I tried to show my little pride and joy off to a former student, only to discover that as I did so, he had a special surprise waiting just for me?

A lot of changes have taken place over the last ten years. Ben Stiller and his crazy family in Meet the Fockers went on to make a sequel called Meet the Little Fockers, a movie that holds a very special place in my heart. Keeping up with tradition, I went to see the film with my parents and my little brother on New Year’s Eve in December of 2010. There’s no way that any of us could have known that it would be the last time all four of us would be together, but only 33 days later we lost my dad to heart failure. Who would have ever known that series of films would one day have so many of my precious memories connected to it.

Keeping up with another tradition, my husband has continued the process of passing out whenever he comes into contact with needles or blood (and always 3 times per incident), but I’ll leave those stories for a future blog post. And lastly, not that it’s important…and really, I only mention this because I know so many people are wondering and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone hanging…but the man STIILL can’t beat me at Pac-Man. It’s sad, really.

And finally, there’s my son. DecadeThe little guy who spent the first hours at home buckled into a carseat and sleeping in the middle of the living room floor, has grown up to become an absolutely hysterical, kind, curious, and (God have mercy on my soul) talkative child. There’s not a single day that goes by when he doesn’t make me laugh until my belly hurts. And even though each passing day as a parent is still somewhat terrifying, the fear that I used to experience is more often than not replaced with joy as I sit back and watch him live, laugh, and love just a little bit more each day.

What a difference a decade makes.

It Just Doesn’t Get Any More Perfect Than That

Every single year I head into the holiday season with a false sense of hope. When will I ever learn? Honestly…when?

From the very first moment that I turn off the light on my front porch and close the door to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, I begin watching Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember.

Watching the movies filled with gorgeous people, who live in equally beautiful homes, carrying out traditional holiday experiences in such letter perfect ways, always gets me excited for the season of decorating, baking and gift wrapping. Whether I’m watching the movies curled up on my couch with a bowl of popcorn, running on my treadmill losing my will to live, or sitting at the kitchen table correcting papers, the movies never fail to keep me cheery and full of anticipation of the joy and promise of this special season.

533765_4200519417975_856696069_nHaving said that, I have to admit, being such a dedicated fan of Hallmark Christmas movies over the years has sent me into the depths of despair on more than one occasion when it comes to the reality of my own holiday experiences. As it turns out, my life is nothing like what you see in the movies.

I honestly can’t count the amount of times I’ve watched the characters in the films walk out into the middle of snow covered woods, sporting matching sweaters knit in the traditional colors of the holidays, to cut down the world’s most perfectly shaped Christmas tree. Then, when the tree has been chosen with precision and care, and after sharing a group hug (and perhaps a few tears) to celebrate the wonderment of it all, the people on screen join hands and sing a Christmas carol rivaling the talents of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Interestingly enough, as the singing continues, the smiling merry makers sip from frothy, steaming cups of what is sure to be homemade hot chocolate that have appeared magically from out of nowhere. Adding to the glory of the moment, around those mugs are wrapped warm hands tucked into beautifully woven woolen mittens most likely sewn with love by the family matriarch only moments before the festive group headed out on their quest for the most gorgeous tree in existence.

Back at the ranch (and we know for certain it’s a ranch because of the random close up shots of horses lingering in snow covered meadows that are shown often just before or after a commercial), once that tree has been put in place, seemingly without incident, the decorating commences. window-wonderland-christmas-ornament-hallmark Silent Night begins to play from some unseen music source (unless, of course, one of the characters grabs a guitar and plays it in the corner for old times sake) while antique ornaments passed down through the generations are placed with care upon the branches of the tree. While the tree is being transformed, tales of days gone by are recounted in clever ways as the special memories each ornament evokes are shared. With the family dog sitting quietly at their feet, and while the tales of yore are being spun, ropes of popcorn and cranberries are strewn (presumably by invisible fairies) in perfect symmetry around the flawlessly groomed conifer.

Adding to the splendor of the moment, peppermint cheeked boys and girls undoubtedly appear, smiling brightly, and carrying trays from the kitchen loaded up with elaborate sugar cookies; cookies which inexplicably came straight out of the oven already frosted and looking as if they could have been decorated by Martha Stewart herself. Mere moments later, after one last story is wrapped up, the cast of characters disperse to a grand dining room to enjoy a meal at an elegantly set table where they drink wine from crystal glasses, eat a five course meal culminating with a savory roast worthy of high praise from any 5 star restaurant, and toast to their day that was perfectly perfect in every single God forsaken way.

And finally (for the love of God, finally!), the last shot before going to a commercial is a view of that majestic tree, which now, only minutes after having been adorned with decorations, has approximately 3,549 immaculately wrapped gifts arranged so creatively that only someone with an advanced degree in modern architecture could have placed them there.

I mean, not that I’m bitter…because I’m totally not.

It’s just that my holiday decorating experiences are never that…flawless. Or cheery. Or musical. Or oozing in craftiness and domesticity.

Perhaps I’m just a little sensitive because this year’s holiday decorating experience was worse than usual at our house. Why? Well, for starters, instead of traipsing through snow covered woods in search of the perfect tree, my husband and I dug through the back of the garage for the cardboard box our pre-lit tree called home for the last 11 months. The only clothing that even came close to matching were the absolutely stunning grey sweatpants that we both happened to be wearing at the time, and the only real precision involved in getting the tree inside the house took place when we hurled the darn thing (all three pieces of it) into the middle of the living room and hoped for the best.

At that moment, if my life had been a movie, we would have grinned from ear to ear, warmly embraced, and a full band and orchestra hidden in some other part of the house would have begun to play as we burst forth into song. But as this was real life, instead of hugging me and singly joyfully, my husband looked quizzically at the three chunks of tree in the middle of the living room, then looked back at me very matter of factly and stated, “It looks to me like mice might have chewed on the lights, I don’t think it’s going to be safe to plug this thing in.” Then, after giving the biggest chunk (the bottom of the tree, if you will) a slight kick, he took a few over exaggerated whiffs of air, dramatically waved his hand in front of his face, and added, “So, if you’re going to head out to buy some more lights, I’d definitely get some Febreeze or something because this thing totally reeks.”

How’s that for a cherished holiday memory? Fa la la la la…la la la…la.

Feeling ridiculously sorry for myself, but not wanting to prolong what was already turning into a stressful day, I thought it best to head to the store to make the purchases we needed to keep our tradition of holiday decorating from deteriorating any further. As I drove (in the pouring rain) I tried to remind myself that while it was true, heading to the store to get deodorant for a fake Christmas tree wasn’t exactly something I’d ever seen play itself out in a Hallmark movie, it could have been worse. Not much worse, of course. But worse nonetheless.

An hour or so later, back at the ranch, my split-level ranch that is (and we know for certain it’s a split-level ranch because you can either go upstairs or downstairs when you walk through the front door), I was somewhat surprised to discover that my husband had taken matters into his own hands. B2When I walked into my house, it was not the wafting fragrance of a lovely pine tree that greeted me, not the mouth watering smells of pastries baking in the oven, and it most certainly wasn’t the air smelling deliciously of popcorn ready to be strung. Oh, no. The scent that welcomed me home was that of a men’s locker room. For it seems my husband was unable to wait for my triumphant return with the Febreeze, and deciding it was in our best interest, he doused the darn tree with an aerosol can of Sure Deodorant Spray.

So, you know, that was festive. Nothing but class at our house during the holidays, of that you can be sure…literally.

With the exception of the fact that I pretty much lost my marbles when I slipped on a huge pile of Pokemon cards (the very stack I’d asked my son to move out of the dead center of the living room approximately two trillion times that day), and the fact that I had to stop and smell the laundry that was sitting in a basket at the top of the stairs to remember if it was clean or dirty, the hours that followed were somewhat uneventful. And although the play by play of the day didn’t look, sound, taste, feel or smell (no… definitely didn’t smell) like the events that unfold in a typical Hallmark movie, they were still enjoyable.

In the movies, the ornaments are antique. In our house the ornaments are those that we’ve collected over the last 9 years because the ones from our childhoods were accidentally taken to the dump on the day we moved into our house.

In the movies, the family dog sits and watches the characters share their favorite holiday memories as they decorate the tree. In our house we don’t have a pet (and never will), so instead, after my son B1got bored with decorating (and by that I mean after he hung a grand total of 3 ornaments), he actually said, “Since we don’t have a doghouse to decorate with lights like some of my friends, I think I’ll make Bob (our Elf on the Shelf) a little house so I can decorate that.” God love him. It was one of the cutest, saddest, and quite frankly, one of the creepiest statements he’d ever made. So, just to be clear…in the movies, the family dog joins the characters in their festive decorating, and in our house, Bob the Elf watches closely from his homemade housebox.

Did I find that just the least bit unsettling? You bet I did.

In the movies, the cookies that are enjoyed during these good times are made from scratch and could win awards for both taste and appearance on any cooking show in the world. On top of that, the hot cocoa that gets sipped is made of rich, creamy chocolate melted on the stove and mixed with milk straight from the cow that is always standing in wait right outside the kitchen door. In our house, the cookies that get devoured come in a tube that says Pillsbury on the side, and more often than not, come out of the oven looking like a marshmallow that exploded after catching on fire at a cookout. What’s worse, rather than looking like a delectable treat that could be found on the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the hot chocolate at our house more closely resembles something that was scooped out of a mud puddle after a heavy rainstorm. It would seem that those powdered clumps of chocolate never entirely get dissolved during the 45 seconds the mug holding the water and packet of Swiss Miss spins around in the microwave.

And finally, in the movies, it takes 30 seconds for the 25 foot tree to be extravagantly decorated before the characters all head off to the dining room to eat dinner, the presentation of which would not be out of place at Buckingham Palace. In our house it takes a good 4 hours to get three chunks of fake tree thoroughly covered, and even then, it looks like we might have done the decorating in the dark. Nonetheless, it’s not just the people in the movies who get hungry after a day of tree garnishing, so we, too, sit down to a family dinner at the end of the day. A family dinner that, this year, included beets, potatoes, bread and…well…meatloaf. Because nothing creates the feeling of Christmas for both body and soul quite like a loaf of meat.

It’s true…everyone says so.

In the end, I’d love to be able to say that as we ate, all of the presents that I’d yet to purchase magically wrapped themselves and appeared under our tree, but that would not be the case. In fact, don’t even get me started on what kind of ordeal wrapping presents is going to be. You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. That question can be answered in two very disturbing, yet alarmingly accurate words.

Man hands.

Yes. Man hands. As in…the hands of a man.

The kind of hands a man would have.

Somehow it wasn’t in the stars for me to be blessed with my mother’s dainty little fingers that look like those of a fine china doll. Nope. Instead, I was blessed with fingers that look more like those of a fine sausage link.

UnknownReplace the unfortunate lobster in this photo with an equally unlucky roll of wrapping paper, and you’ve got yourself a match. Any wrapping paper that makes its way into my hands has about as much of a chance of survival as that poor lobster. In fact, I’d venture to say that a lobster dismantled with the likes of those man hands will still likely be more attractive than the holiday packages I’m able to produce.

It’s a fact that I have family and friends who can wrap gifts in award winning fashion. The lines of the folds are always perfectly straight and wrinkle free, and the paper is, without exception, folded into perfect looking triangles on each end of the sparkling package. The tape that’s been used lies flat against the paper and is always invisible to the eye.

My packages, on the other hand, more often than not look like they’ve been put together by a 4 year old using safety scissors (oily fingerprints and all) in the middle of a tornado. In all my years, I’ve never, not even once, managed to wrap a gift that doesn’t make people second guess my mental health. I’ve spent many a holiday party mortified that guests will accidentally mistake the wrapping on my packages for holiday themed bubble wrap.

Holiday bubble wrap aside, as I sit here (incidentally watching a Hallmark Christmas movie), having had two full weeks to recover from that less than perfect decorating debacle, I’m looking around and enjoying the fruits of our labor. I’m looking at the tree, and while it’s not decorated with antique or expensive looking ornaments, it’s mine and I love it. And even though I’m sitting in a home that’s not so big that it could house a small nation, or one that has enough land for 2,000 horses to run wild (and thanks be to God for that), I’m sitting in a house that I love. I’m also sitting here making the open admission that I will never even come close to being a person that will win first place in any kind of cooking, crafting, or decorating contest, but also knowing that there are other things in my life that I do well, so I’m okay with that.

But do you know what else I’m doing? I’m sitting here looking forward to the next few weeks and the time that I’ll be celebrating the holidays with family and friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m counting my blessings for those people; for their happiness, for their health, for their safety, and for the joy and laughter that they bring into my life. 564000_4200520978014_2043620534_n But most importantly, I’m thanking God for an absolutely amazing nine year old little boy who doesn’t really care that some of the ornaments on our tree were purchased at the dollar store or that the cookies he sometimes eats are made from prepackaged dough. The same little boy who, even though he’s100% aware that his mother is not capable of wrapping an attractive present to save her life, still asks her to tuck him into bed every single night before reminding her how much he loves her. And I don’t know about you, but in my world, it just doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

 

 

 

 

Best Choice I Ever Made

Let’s face it, we all make bad decisions from time to time. I, for one, am certainly no stranger to wishing I’d gone another route with some of the choices I’ve made over the years.

thin-mint-sleeveFor example, when I was in the second grade, I ate an entire sleeve of Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies during recess one day just before I had to run the 600 yard dash around the school. It didn’t take the embarrassment I experienced when I vomited on my PE teacher’s sneakers to remind me that two or three cookies probably would have sufficed.

Then there was the scorcher of a day a few years later when my dearest friend Michele Richardson and I decided, in a moment of sheer brilliance, to close the shower doors and attempt to fill the bathtub to the brim with water to create our own indoor swimming pool. The fact that that was also an extraordinarily bad idea came rushing through (literally) when, much to our horror (and sadly, to my surprise) the tub overflowed, the water gushed through the huge gap between the sliding glass doors, flowed over to the heating vent in the floor, and made its final escape by seeping down through the pipes to the newly renovated den in the room below. The final results of that disastrous decision were gigantic brown water stains all over the brand new wallpaper my mom had been saving up to buy for years.

fantasyislandtvposter001And finally, even though it wouldn’t be the last lapse in judgement I’d ever have, in retrospect, telling my husband (who has dark hair, a dark complexion, and who stands at 5’2″ on a good day) that he would be a dead ringer for Tattoo from the show Fantasy Island if he would just wear a white suit and black bow tie to the costume party we were heading to one evening, was probably not my most shining moment either. I guess it didn’t help the situation that I laughed so hard I had to hop up the stairs with my legs crossed to keep from peeing on the kitchen floor while I desperately tried to apologize for the perceived insult.

Yes…well, we all make mistakes.

Next week is Thanksgiving weekend, and as tradition dictates, my family and I will put up our Christmas tree. As we do so, our conversation will undoubtedly drift to talking about past holiday seasons and the wonderful memories they hold. In our household, since my son was born only three days after Christmas, the recollections will inevitably lead to those that focus on the December that I was in my ninth month of pregnancy; a period in time when I officially hit the big leagues of bad decision making.

It’s no secret that when a woman is pregnant she has a lot of choices to make. Will she find out the gender of her child or wait to be surprised? Will there be a theme for the baby’s new room, and if so, what will it be? Will it be best to go with plastic or cloth diapers? Will she bottle or breast feed? These are just a few of the many conundrums that expectant moms find themselves facing.

Looking back, however, I realize it was not those decisions that proved so tragic for me during the months that I carried my son. No, the catastrophic choice that I’m referring to is in regard to my clothing. More specifically, my somewhat unexplainable desire to adorn myself in horizontal stripes the last few weeks before my son was born. Yes. Horizontal stripes.

Owen1This picture (Holy. Freaking. Cow.), taken on Christmas Day 2004, shows the state I was in three days before my son was born. Though I can hardly believe it myself, I remember seeing that shirt hanging on the rack in the store, and because it had a stretchiness to it the likes of which I had never seen, I knew right then and there I had to make it mine. When I think about the looks I received anytime I entered a room at the end of my ninth month wearing that gorgeous garment, it literally makes me cringe. (Let’s not pretend you’re not horrified.) Quite honestly, I hope it’s the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like a bearded lady. You know the one I’m talking about…the poor creature that fair goers of days gone by used to pay a quarter to gawk at inside some creepy circus tent? That was me. People wanted to be polite, and yet, the ungodliness of my girth didn’t permit them to look away.

For the record, I had a lot on my mind when I purchased that shirt. The Christmas season alone is stressful enough, and being nine months pregnant during that time wasn’t the most fun I’d ever had in my life. Not to mention the fact that growing up, I always imagined that I’d both look and act like the glowing pregnant women I saw on television and in magazines. As an adult I should have known better, but nonetheless, the perception of how I looked and the way I behaved in my own mind didn’t exactly align with reality. MmaThis picture, though unsettling, does a terrific job displaying my imagined self as a pregnant woman compared to my actual situation. Even though I gained an enormous amount of weight, I still felt great and was only reminded of the drastic change in my appearance when I’d witness the reactions of people I’d not seen in several months. I just kind of got used to seeing their faces explode in expressions of alarm or pity when they saw me. Their instantaneous grimaces and stifled gasps made me feel like the star of Stephen King’s latest horror film. What was even worse were their immediate, yet always uncomfortable and awkward attempts to cover up their obvious terror. In the end, if the truth be told, it was always me who ended up feeling sorry for them.

It was around this same time that my doctor, after getting a glimpse of me at one of my appointments, completely lost his wits and blurted, “Wow! You have some mean looking ankles!” I  couldn’t help but feel like that bearded lady  once again when I made the realization that, dear God, even the man who’d seen hundreds…nay, thousands of pregnant women in his career spanning three decades, couldn’t help but be alarmed by my “somewhat abundant”ankles. Hey, go big or go home, that’s what I say. Who wants to settle for cankles when you can have…let’s see, how can I describe them delicately…TANKles? Not me, that’s for sure.

As luck would have it, it was another photograph taken that same Christmas Day that finally made me realize that pledging my allegiance to Edie’s Fudge Tracks Ice Cream during the last two months of pregnancy was yet another ill-fated choice. Not only that, it cemented the fact that horizontal stripes were just a downright no-no.

To make a long story short, my husband researches EVERYTHING before he buys something new. I mean it. If I mention I’m thinking of switching brands of toothpaste, it takes him a good six months to do the research before it’s even allowed inside the house. As a result, he experienced an enormous amount of anxiety when it came time to buy our first digital camera, the device that would document the birth of our only child. By the time he made the final decision and purchased the camera, the birth of our son was just a few days away. After spending Christmas with my parents and taking the very first photos with the camera, we printed them off as soon as we got home. The first few pictures that came through the printer looked spectacular. The high quality prints and the clear images confirmed that his choice of cameras was a good one.

But then something weird happened.

The last photo to print was of my husband and I just before we left my parents earlier that evening. Unfortunately, in that particular picture, a bright yellow spot loomed just above my head in the upper right hand corner of the photo. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought it was an overexposed or underdeveloped picture from the old days when we used to have to twist flashcubes into the tops of cameras and drop off rolls of film at the store to have them developed. And even though I immediately shared my worry that there was something very wrong with the camera, much to my astonishment, my husband just stared at me bewilderedly for a few seconds and then changed the subject. That’s right. The man who’d spent close to four full months researching cameras to find just the right one could have cared less about the fact that our new $400 camera was clearly defective. I was shocked at his lack of concern, but after asking him a few more times (to no avail) why he wasn’t worried that the yellow mark might appear in other photos, I suddenly remembered that there was some left over coconut cream pie waiting for me in the fridge. So, like any other red blooded, gigantic pregnant woman wearing horizontal stripes at the peak of her pregnancy would do, I gave up and frantically waddled like heck to the kitchen in search of the pie. Later, when describing that moment to others, my husband would describe me as looking more like a frenzied child on Christmas morning making her way to a huge pile of presents than a 33 year old woman only three days away from giving birth.

Even so, that’s when it hit me.

No. Not the pie. The reason my husband had looked at me with such a baffled expression and hadn’t appeared bothered when I’d expressed concern over the malfunctioning camera. For it wasn’t a problem with any kind of exposure to light or a darkroom error. And it most certainly wasn’t the fault of a flashcube, printer ink, poor focus on the part of the camera operator, or any other plausible cause.

Nope.

tree1

The yellow spot…the brightly shining blotch that appeared just above my head in that festive holiday photo was, in fact, the star on the top of the Christmas tree in my parents’ living room. The very same Christmas tree that could not be seen in the photo because it was blocked from view by me and my horizontal stripes.

Go ahead. Take it all in, I dare you. And while you’re at it, I’m going to go ahead and bet that not a single one of you is saying, “Been there, done that.”

Up until that point in my life I’d survived regurgitating Girl Scout cookies literally on the heels of my PE instructor. I’d been responsible for permanently damaging my mother’s beautiful new wallpaper and actually lived to tell about it. And though it took a few days, I’d earned forgiveness from my husband for having pointed out that he shared an alarming resemblance to a man who could, quite possibly, be considered the least desirable television star to hit the airwaves in the late 1970s.

However, even with that extensive track record, I wasn’t sure I could survive knowing that during the last stage of my pregnancy, I’d grown ginormous enough to completely cover a fully decorated Christmas tree. Not a large plant, mind you. Not an oversized shrub. A full grown, God forsaken fir tree covered in brightly shining lights and elaborate ornaments. I remember standing there holding the photo in my hands (which, ironically, were smeared with whipped cream and crumbs from the crust of the pie I’d just devoured like my life depended on it) and thinking that the words absolutely did not exist to describe the shame I felt at that moment. It certainly was not my proudest moment.

SaturnLooking back, I learned a lot during the time that I was pregnant, not the least of which is that horizontal stripes and pregnancy do not mix. But then again, do horizontal stripes ever really work? Frankly, unless your name is Ernie and you live with Bert, or your name is Saturn and you’re a planet, I’d say it’s best to stay away from horizontal stripes altogether. Just for kicks and giggles, I thought it might be fun to Google a picture of Saturn just to see what I could find. I’m sure it’s not difficult to imagine the reaction I had when, lo and behold, I found this image of the ringed planet. Coincidence? I think not.

In the end, I’m happy to report that although it hasn’t exactly been an easy ride, thanks to Weight Watchers and a newfound passion for running, I’m certainly a lot healthier these days (110 pounds healthier to be exact) than I was almost ten years ago when those unfortunate holiday photos pregowere taken. And, as you can see, the now infamous shirt with the horizontal stripes is still hanging around. Over the years there have been several occasions when I’ve parted with items associated with my pregnancy, but for some strange reason, I simply cannot say goodbye to that shirt. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of a time in my life when I was filled with joy, expectation, and the knowledge that I was about to bring a child into the world (and yes, for the love of God, the joy and expectation I experienced each night when I sat down with a gallon or two of ice-cream).

Either way, when that nine month roller coaster ride called pregnancy finally came to an end one early Tuesday morning in December, nothing mattered more than the healthy 9 lb. 7 oz. baby boy I got to hold in my arms for the very first time. All the horizontal stripes in the world couldn’t put a damper on what it meant to finally be a mom.

In closing, I think I’ve established a pretty strong case to support the fact that I’ve made some tremendously poor decisions in my life, and sadly, I don’t think there’s any question that there are several more on the horizon. Somehow, however, none of that seems to matter these days because of one important decision I made almost a decade ago. The very same one that’s resulted in some of the most proud, hilarious, joyful, and fulfilling moments of my life. And next week, when we put up our Christmas tree, you can bet I’ll be thinking a lot about that wonderful decision.

Oh, yes. Motherhood. Best choice I ever made.

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, 2014. My father would have celebrated his 69th 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, Jesus Christ, 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.