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’m Okay With That

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

Well, I’m not an animal lover.

There. I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the same thing every single time.

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

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

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

Just curious.

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

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

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

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

And when I stay straddling I mean straddling.

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

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

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

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

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.

You Really Just Need To See Them For Yourself

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

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

No. I’m not kidding.

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

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

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

Yes, that’s right. Her wardrobe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew?

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

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

So…that was fun.

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

Well…happy and somewhat frightened.

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

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

You really just need to see them for yourself.

I Just Did Not See That One Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s when the real fun began.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for this?

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

Yes, I said sniffing.

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

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

Because what I found was a peanut.

That’s right. A peanut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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