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.

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Thank God For Really Cool Bosses

The day began with a bang. Well…technically a pop. Or at least it was supposed to be a pop.

It was the end of January, and even though for a lot of people that time of year is a dark and dreary one, it’s one of my favorite months because in my world, the school play that I direct each year is just about to begin. Don’t get me wrong, auditions were only a few days away, and at any given moment I had 10,000 things on my mind, but I was feeling excited…if not just a little more exhausted than usual. It was 5:30 in the morning and I’d only managed to get maybe three total hours of sleep the night before because my son, who had a bad cold, had been up most of the evening. When I checked my email that morning and saw a message from my principal inquiring whether or not I could attend a previously unscheduled meeting that day after school, I should have known better than to respond.

MV5BMTM1ODUyMjAzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTcyMjE2MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_I should have had my first cup of coffee.

I should have put my contacts in.

I should have had my second cup of coffee.

I should have dug out my Richard Simmons exercise videos and done some sweating to the oldies.

What I most definitely should not have done is responded to that email after having been out of bed for less than five minutes.

The intention behind my early morning email response was to let my principal know that, even though I already had another meeting scheduled that day after school, and even though I had to be at my son’s daycare by 3:30 to pick him up, I’d still plan to do my very best to get to his meeting.

Choosing to read (and ultimately respond to) an email at the crack of dawn while exhausted and wearing my glasses with an out of date prescription was truly the most terrible idea I’ve ever had.

Why? I’ll tell you why.

Being the consummate professional that I am, I did a fairly good job summarizing my scheduling conflict, but in the last line of the email, I classily summed up my intentions with a parting line that stated, “No worries, I’ll swing by the other meeting and then poop for as long as I can.”

No. There’s no need to rub your eyes to make sure you read that last line correctly. In fact, let me go ahead and repeat it for you. I ended an email…to my principal…by elegantly stating,”No worries, I’ll swing by the other meeting and then POOP FOR AS LONG AS I CAN.”

I didn’t discover my error until my principal himself, who (thank Mary and all the saints) had a tremendous sense of humor, showed up at my door during homeroom that morning doubled over, shoulders shaking and buckled at the knees, while at the same time doing his very best to catch his breath and point to his laptop. Not knowing exactly why he was laughing so hard, I looked at his screen, began reading, and feeling more than just a little flushed, immediately prayed like heck to be swallowed up and buried alive.

When that didn’t happen, I geared up to make my apology in as dignified a manner as possible. In an attempt to mask my mortification, however, my first instinct was to go on the defensive and ask him if he was trying to tell me that I’d given him a really stinky response.

But then I remembered that I wasn’t a ten year old boy.

For my second attempt at an apology (apology number 2, if you get my drift) I thought about taking the easy way out and simply saying,”My bad,” but in the end, that also seemed a little asinine.

Finally, I decided to take another crack at it by trying (God help me, I tried) to provide a straightforward (not to mention straight faced) apology. After taking his laptop and reading the message again, I somewhat ferociously tried to explain that my intended message was supposed to be, “No worries, I’ll swing by the other meeting and then POP IN for as long as I can.” But then, in desperation (for the laughter had not ceased), I looked at him and started rambling incoherently about the fact that I most certainly knew that pooping and popping are, in fact, two very different things (clearly all attempts at remaining dignified had gone down the drain). However, seeing as that statement only made the corners of his mouth quiver even more tumultuously, at long last I lost my battle with refinement and sophistication and joined in the merriment with a very unladylike cackle. I mean, let’s be honest, at that point, the last thing on Earth I wanted was to be accused of being a party pooper. And hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself at a moment like that, then by God, when can you?

Now that this whole thing is behind me, I will forever be thankful for the way my principal handled that really crappy experience. Needless to say, it was a real load off my mind to know that he wasn’t upset. In fact, it was pretty much just business as usual for the rest of the day. Had it not been for that, I certainly would have spent the rest of my day down in the dumps. I mean seriously, what a relief.

What’s the lesson here? Bad things happen when you’re pooped. They just do.

Thank God for really cool bosses.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Really, I Do.

Note: 

August 25, 2014. The live version of The Sound of Music that Carrie Underwood starred in last year was up for a few Emmy Awards tonight. This seemed like a good time to get my original rant posted on my blog.

November 2013

Licking the remains of the last few specks of tart, Lik-m-aid Fun Dip powder from the sugary white dipping stick. Entertaining myself with my bright red, handheld Merlin game in the backseat of my mom’s car. Having my hopes dashed when the cakes that came out of my Easy Bake Oven neither looked nor tasted anything like the television commercials promised they would. Stepping on the brightly colored pegs from my Light Bright in the middle of the night on my way into pee (charming……I know). These are just a few of the memories I have of growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, and even though I’m fairly sure I still have shards of hot pink plastic lodged in the bottom of my left foot from that darn Light Bright, I love every single one of them.

As a middle school teacher, I’m constantly reminded of the differences between the world today and the one that existed when I was a teenager. We’ve traded Ocean Pacific, Members Only, Jordache and Esprit, for American Eagle, Under Armor and Abercrombie & Fitch. We’ve swapped IZOD’S alligator for Hollister’s seagull.

For the good, the bad or the ugly, gone are the days of Hammer Pants, rainbow colored leg warmers and “big” hair with teased bangs (the likes of which could easily poke one’s eye out if caught at just the right angle). Parachute Pants have been replaced by Cargo Pants, Jelly Shoes by Crocks, Banana Clips by Scrunchies, Stonewashed Jeans by Skinny Jeans and Boomboxes by i-pods. Hand written notes to friends now take the form of electronic text messages filled with variations of LOL, BTW, WTF (my apologies), ROFL and #Istillhavenoideawhatahashtagis.

How is it even possible that the decades that quite literally defined me as a person currently stand at #4 and #5 on today’s Most Popular Theme Parties Top 10 Lists? (It’s true. I GOOGLED it.)

I get it. Things change. Really, I do. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Growing up, there were a few things I could always count on…

  • Each year, on the morning of December 25, I found a book of Lifesavers Candy tucked away in my Christmas stocking.
  • I could accidentally sever a limb in a freak accident, but if it happened on a Thursday night between 8:00-9:00 pm while Mom was watching The Waltons, the medical attention required to reattach that body part would have to wait.
  • And last, but certainly not least, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp, would air on TV every Easter weekend.

Watching The Sound of Music was a sacred experience in my house. SACRED. The excitement and anticipation that shot through me was palpable as I eagerly awaited ABC’s Special Family Presentation of the classic film. I can still smell the butter and taste the salt on the popcorn that my mother made just before the movie began. I remember scurrying to move the coffee table out of the way so I could spread the afghans (which had been knitted with love in the beautiful hues of gold, rust orange, brown and avocado green so popular in the 70s) across the living room floor. Once I’d marked my territory with the afghans, I’d arrange my pillows for maximum comfort in front of the television and just wait for the magic to happen.

There was no bigger thrill than when a commercial would end, the screen would  momentarily go blank and the clouds that hovered above the Alps would miraculously appear on the screen. The excitement would build when only a few seconds later the wind began whistling through those mountains as the camera slowly panned its way from sky to land. Unknown-1 Every year it was as if that very breeze transported me directly to Salzburg, Austria where I had a front row view of Maria twirling delightedly through the hills. At the end of the opening scene, the bright yellow script the movie title was written in faded into the background, and I sat back and watched as my beloved Maria began her transformation from bumbling nun-to-be, to the Von Trapp children’s favorite governess and eventually Georg Von Trapp’s wife.

In spite of my love and adoration for the film, and my many protests, pleas and promises to be cheerful and chipper the next day, Mom and Dad always made me go to bed right after Maria ran away, guitar in hand, after confessing to Baroness Von Schrader (yes, of course I know her name) that she was, in fact, desperately in love with Captain Von Trapp. Every other night of the year my parents were fast asleep on one of the downstairs couches, snoring away, but never, not even one time, did either of them catch a single wink when I was trying to just once, for the love of God, stay up and watch the rest of that movie. I honestly think I was thirteen years old before I finally saw the actual wedding, the performance by the Von Trapp Family Singers (thanks to the sneaky antics of Uncle Max), and the final escape the family made into the mountains after being saved by the devious shenanigans of Mother Superior and her band of outlaw nuns. In the end, the only reason I was able to finally see the the whole movie wasn’t because I was allowed to stay up late, but because it was the mid 80s and we finally got a VCR.

Looking back, the first time I saw the movie all the way through was memorable for a lot of reasons. Not only was I actually seeing the film in its entirety, but it was also the first time I remember having a true understanding of what that Nazi Flag symbolized. As if I didn’t already have a million reasons to adore Georg Von Trapp, making the discovery that he was a Nazi resister made him even more endearing than ever.

So, what in the world does all of this have to do with anything? A few nights ago I was sitting on the couch correcting papers. I always keep the television on to have noise in the background. It was getting late, my contacts were drying out, and I was ready to call it a night. Just as I was about to hit the power button on the remote, a commercial came on proudly proclaiming that on Thursday, December 5, Carrie Underwood would be starring in a live production of The Sound of Music.

The first thing I did was check the glass on the coffee table to reassure myself that I had, in fact, only been drinking ice tea and not something stronger. Then, when Ashton Kutcher was nowhere to be seen and it was clear that I wasn’t getting Punked, the second thing I did was rewind the commercial (DVR is one update I’ve welcomed with open arms). Much to my horror, I made the discovery that I was not mistaken, I had heard correctly. Carrie Underwood is definitely going to be performing The Sound of Music in front of a live audience in just a few weeks. Nope. Not kidding. It’s true. And every time I see the commercial, I die a little on the inside.

The last thing I did that night was cry myself to sleep.

Okay, not really, but I came pretty darn close. I tossed and turned and tried like heck to put the irrational amount of angst that this new development was causing me into perspective. I mean come on, there are certainly more important things to worry about, and I assure you that I do have my priorities straight. But this is THE SOUND OF MUSIC for crying out Christmas. One of the last unchanged remnants of my childhood. The movie I acted out in my back yard for hours on end. The reason I will go to my grave with a scar just above my right elbow because, as it turns out, running in circles on benches and singing about being sixteen going on seventeen isn’t as easy as Liesl and Rolph made it look.

In order to calm down, I tried to remind myself that the intention of the Underwood performance appears to be to replicate the original Broadway version of the play and not the film, but still, in my mind, Julie Andrews will always be Maria Von Trapp. And I mean always. When Julie Andrews wasn’t singing about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, she was starring as Mary Poppins and singing about spoons full of sugar.

What’s Carrie Underwood singing about when she’s not performing live on stage as Maria Von Trapp? Oh, that’s easy. She’s singing about digging her keys into the sides of pretty little souped up 4 wheel drives (again, GOOGLED it).

Please, don’t get me wrong. I promise you, I understand that things change. Really, I do. Just last evening, when I was walking around the local mall, I did a lot of reflecting about the good old days. I was momentarily saddened by the fact that the original Dunkin Donuts at the mall (with its memorable chrome and hot pink vinyl stools), is now a Ruby Tuesdays. If I want to get coffee at the mall these days I have to go to Java Junction and order from a menu that I can only make out with the help of my reading glasses. I’m okay with that. I’m even okay with the fact that the original Gap clothing store, with its orange storefront, is now in a different location and has been replaced with Hollister, the store my son refers to as “the haunted house” because of its unique entryway.

But ask me to think of Maria Von Trapp as anyone other than Julie Andrews and it’s not going to happen.

Not ever. No dice.

Having had a couple of days to let the reality sink in, I can’t help but wonder what’s next for crying out loud? Lady Gaga reprising the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind? Will the young and old alike flock to theaters to see Miley Cyrus (foam finger and all) replace Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Better yet…let’s plug Andrew Dice Clay into Gregory Peck’s role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and see how that turns out.

Not that I’m bitter.

In case there’s any question, on the evening of December 5, I will be in the middle of my living room floor, making myself comfortable on my afghans and with my pillows piled high. And though I won’t have Mom’s awesome popcorn dripping with butter and salt, I will have my 94% fat free microwave popcorn by my side. I’ll also have my life size cardboard cutout of Julie Andrews there with me just in case I get overwhelmed and need some support.

Just kidding, that would be weird. I only bring that out when the actual film is being aired.

Finally, don’t get me wrong. I happen to think Carrie Underwood is a terrific singer with a wonderful voice. It’s nothing personal. Honestly, it isn’t. In fact, I give her a lot of credit for being willing to take on such a huge responsibility, especially in a “live television event” during primetime. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on her, that’s for sure, and when all is said and done, I wish her all the best. I hope, after all my ranting and raving about her taking on this role, that she does a phenomenal job.

At the end of the day, as it so often is, I hope the joke’s on me.

Really, I do.