Keep Your Hands To Yourself

I grew up in a family of big time huggers. That’s right. My family liked to hug.

A lot.

We liked to hug each other. We liked to hug our friends. And quite frankly, if the situation called for it, we had absolutely no problem hugging complete strangers. It’s just what we did. No matter the occasion, chances were, at my house it was going to end with your face smushed awkwardly (albeit lovingly) into someone’s shoulder, neck, cheek, or (God help you) bosom, while they squeezed the holy living heck out of you. It didn’t really seem to matter if it were the celebration of a birthday, getting a good grade on a test, or even something as ridiculous as the successful spearing of the last pea on a dinner plate without sending it flying across the table….either way, a hug was in order. It just was.

Now, knowing full well that not every occasion called for a full on embrace, we also found other ways to display our feelings. In fact, one of the best parts of being a middle school teacher is how close to home I feel when I walk through the hallways between classes. Why? Because middle school boys have a strange way of showing their affection for one another. They replace hugging with jabbing, poking, pinching, squeezing, wrestling, fist bumping, headlocking, and body slamming. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to give the gentle reminder to Keep your hands to yourself! to a group of unsuspecting boys while walking down the corridor. And while I’ve never actually been engaged in a full on body slam, many behaviors exhibited by middle school boys were always regular occurrences at my house over the years. The bottom line was, come heck or high water, we were going to show our admiration and appreciation for each other even if it meant acting like a group of adolescents.

Having been made aware of my history, is it any wonder, then, that I’ve continued with the family tradition of being openly affectionate in just about any given situation? Well, it’s true. And for the most part, it’s never really been a problem.

But let’s talk about that “most part” shall we?

It was one of the hottest days of the summer and my son and I were craving watermelon. Knowing it would take twice as long if we went to the local grocery store because I would talk to a lot of people, my son begged me to go to a market in a neighboring town. Not expecting to see anyone I recognized, I was absolutely thrilled when I ran into my old friend, Peter Jenkins, who I knew had recently been battling cancer. Peter’s a member of a big family in the town where I live, and over the years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching with his awesome wife, Nona, as well as the chance to teach his two wonderful children and many of his nieces and nephews. He’s a man I’d known for at least fifteen years, although I didn’t see him very often, and at that point in time it had been several years since we’d last run into each other. Even though I’d heard he’d gone into remission and was hopefully over the worst, I was stunned to see him looking so healthy and strong. Not being one to hold back, I latched onto his arm with the same force a parent might use while trying to pull a child out of the path of an eighteen wheeler, and keeping my hand firmly in place, immediately squealed, “Oh my goodness, you look sooooooo great! It’s so nice to see you!”

After talking for a few minutes about our busy summer schedules, without even realizing it, I found myself squeezing Peter’s arm again and saying,”Honestly, you look incredible. I just can’t tell you how thrilled that makes me!” After thanking me politely, the conversation moved on to a discussion of the fact that the summer was going by far too quickly. However, because I still found myself unable to believe my eyes, it wasn’t long before I was gripping his shoulders and blurting, “I’m not kidding, I don’t think you’ve ever looked better!” Once again shrugging off the compliment with a slight laugh, Peter turned the conversation to trips he still hoped to take with his family before school and sports practices started up again.

It was at that point that the conversation came to a natural lull, but rather than saying my goodbyes like most people would have done, I decided, just in case I hadn’t made it clear, to let Peter know one more time just how fantastic I thought he looked. Grabbing his hand and holding on for dear life, I looked right at him, and because I was actually getting emotional, had to compose myself just a bit before sputtering something along the lines of, “Seeing you has made my whole week. It makes my heart happy to see you looking SO amazing!”

Unfortunately, it was that last gesture, the grasp of the hand, that made me realize I’d very unintentionally made Peter uncomfortable. Although he didn’t come right out and say it, nor did he openly react to that final touch, the subtle change in his expression let me know that enough was enough. Thinking it best not to apologize for fear it would make the situation more uncomfortable, I decided to say my goodbyes and I headed off in search of a watermelon.

Minutes later, while standing in line at the register, I looked over and noticed Peter at the service counter. Only I suddenly realized that the man I was looking at wasn’t Peter Jenkins. While it was true that the man standing there was the same one with whom I’d just had a very up close and personal conversation, something in his expression forced me to face the fact that the person I’d been talking to was not at all who I thought it was. Working hard to figure out who I’d actually been speaking with, I immediately began to feel woozy.

And it wasn’t because of the heat.

It was because the realization of just who I’d been talking to had suddenly become crystal clear. For the man I’d been talking to wasn’t my old friend Peter Jenkins at all, but another man named Niles Parker from the town in which I live; a person I’d only really spoken with once, and even then only for a few seconds in a crowded auditorium. A man I’d not actually called by name and who had absolutely no idea that I’d mistaken him for someone else. The very same man who…brace yourself…happened to be the Chairman of the school board in the town in which I teach.

Lord, have mercy on my soul.

Yes. It’s true. The man who held the head position on the school board in the town in which I was, in fact, an educator, was the very same one that only moments before I’d manhandled to my heart’s content…all while staring directly into his eyes and telling him over and over (and over and over and over) that he looked absolutely sensational.

Now, I ask you…..how does one apologize for something like that?

My first thought, naturally, was to run. To run to my car and try to forget that the whole incident ever occurred, but I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t sleep until I was able to somehow explain myself. Within a few seconds I made the decision to be brave and go apologize for having repeatedly groped him. However, when I turned to get out of the line so I could head over to the service counter, I noticed that he was no longer anywhere in sight.

Fighting off the image of a distraught Niles curled up and rocking back and forth in a corner of the supermarket somewhere after succumbing to the horrors of what I’d just put him through, I spent my time waiting in line considering what my next move should be. I decided the best way to handle the situation was to call my friend Bonnie who I knew was close with both Niles and his wonderful wife. I would explain what had happened, and ask her to let them know I was completely mortified.

Several minutes later I walked out of the store feeling somewhat appeased, but as I made my way into the scorching heat, I saw Niles standing near his car in the parking lot. Throwing my current plan aside, I decided to once again take matters into my own hands (not literally this time if I could absolutely help it) and set things straight. As I scurried across the parking lot calling to him, he noticed me in hot pursuit, and with all the calm and serenity a person being approached by a frenzied Freddy Krueger might display, he was doing his very best to get his car unlocked so he could make his escape.

Moments later, when I finally arrived at his vehicle sweating profusely and panting in a very unladylike fashion like the vixen I am, the poor guy turned to face me. Keeping one hand noticeably on the door handle while the other, no doubt, held his key firmly in place should he need to fend me off, he probably expected me to crack open a bottle of wine right then and there before asking him if he’d meet me for dinner that night. Instead, I just stood there catching my breath and trying to figure out what to say next. Having never been in the position of needing to apologize for fondling a virtual stranger to the point of obvious despair, I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin. I mean, what in the world was I supposed to say? “I’m sorry…I thought you were my friend who has cancer”? Even though it was the truth, it just seemed like the wrong thing to say for so many reasons. And even though I didn’t go through with sharing the exact specifics that led to the case of mistaken identity, I did manage to huff a ridiculous apology and a muttered explanation of the fact that I really did just think he was someone else I knew. After hearing my explanation, he politely accepted my apology, and after we shared a few more moments of painfully awkward laughter during which I continued to pant and slobber (how’s that for sultry?), we went our separate ways.

God love that man.

When all was said and done, and the situation was finally resolved, I was forced to ask myself a few questions. I guess you could say I tried to get a handle on the situation. I found myself wondering if it had been entirely necessary to paw at Niles with the same vigor one might use while trying to warm up Nanook of the North upon his return from the frozen arctic tundra. The very obvious answer was……probably not. And had it been absolutely critical to compliment the poor man on his robustness to the point of making me seem like a world class stalker? No. Not really.

But no worries, because the biggest punishment of all, I assure you, was the fact that even if it were only for a few minutes, Niles Parker, a highly respected family man and pillar of the community in which I live (oh, and let’s not forget Chairman of the school board), potentially thought I was hitting on him right there in the middle of the grocery store. And to add insult to injury, I was doing so while holding the hand of my eight year old son and standing against the backdrop of two enormous displays of Vienna Sausages and B&M Baked Beans rivaled in size only by the Great Pyramids themselves. Does that scream seductress or what?

Looking back on the experience, nearly three years after that ill fated supermarket encounter, I’m happy to report that despite our interesting beginning, I now have the privilege of calling Niles Parker my friend. He and his wife Sonja, and their three wonderful children, are some of the best people I know.

I’m also over the moon to report that my friend Peter Jenkins, who finds this whole debacle to be an absolute riot, has been in remission for the past few years. In fact, it was after having shared this story with him that I decided it might be okay to write about it in a blog one day. Since making the decision to do so, I’ve had the opportunity to ask many questions that I might not have normally asked, and as a result, have had the wonderful opportunity to get to know him better. He’s always so responsive to my inquiries and honest about the experiences that he’s had. The strength he exudes about the particular kind of cancer he had (rectal) is humbling in so many ways, and I’ve been amazed by his sense of humor about the whole situation. In fact, in my most recent communication with him, his question to me was,”Hey, you’re a runner, right? What do you say to starting a Rectal Run? Let’s kick cancer in the butt!” After I stopped laughing, I told him that he should be writing a blog, not me. His response was that it’s a combination of laughter, tears, and a little bit of anger that help him cope with the emotional side of having had cancer.

Peter, like so many of my friends who have proven to be warriors in their unexpected battles against cancer, is a reminder of all that is truly important.There are so many people whose lives have been interrupted by illness, but who have refused to let that illness win. It’s those people that remind me, especially when I’m “sweating the small stuff,” that everything is a matter pf perspective. They’re truly heroes in every sense of the word, and I continue to be inspired by their positivity and resilience..

Finally…I’d like to go ahead and show you just why it was so easy to confuse these two great men. On the left is Peter Jenkins, and on the right is Niles Parker. As you can see, they clearly share some similar features. While I can’t go as far as to say that mistaking them for one another could have happened to anyone, I hope you can see how it might have occurred.

Jenkins             Parker

In my defense, considering my upbringing, I think I should be given a small amount of credit for not pulling the poor, unsuspecting Niles into a bearhug that day and mauling him half to death. I’d also like to point out that I complimented Niles in the store that day using words like incredibleamazing, and fantastic. It’s not like I stood there shooting come-hither looks and showing a little leg while telling him he looked scrumptious, luscious, or delectable for crying out loud. No, I kept it classy…as is my nature. So, as much as it pains me to think about it….the experience I had in the store that day really could’ve been worse. Not much worse. But worse nonetheless.

In closing, I’d like to return to where I began…I’m a hugger, so excuse me for living. I hug. I hug a lot. I hug when I’m happy. I hug when I’m sad. I hug when I’m scared. I even hug when I’m hungry, for the love of God….it’s just something I do. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that if hugging is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

That being said, I’m pretty lucky this story had a happy ending.The bottom line is I made a mistake. A gigantic mistake. But even Ben Franklin himself once said, “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” That’s pretty good advice if you ask me, and except for the reaching out part, I think they’re words I should live by. And while I don’t pretend to put myself in rank with great men like Ben Franklin, I do have some advice of my own to offer that goes a little something like this…..”Do not fear being affectionate. You will know failure. Continue to reach out. But not literally. When in doubt, (and even, perhaps, when you’re not), it’s sometimes best to keep your hands to yourself.”

It Wasn’t Easy At All

“What did you just say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s when the howling began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time it was my turn to be stricken.

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

images-1The sign with the weird L.

And I wanted to die.

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

Merciful Heavens.

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

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

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

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

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

Dear God.

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

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

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

I Was Just Too Chicken

Candy. Flowers. Jewelry.

Three items that most women, over the course of their lifetimes, receive at one time or another from someone who’s special to them. They’re all gifts that a woman might receive from a significant other, a family member, or a friend as a gesture to show appreciation, congratulations, support, or even just to express that she is missed or being thought of often.

But these are not the presents I wish to focus on in this post. No, I’m more interested in focusing on the offerings a woman receives that hold meanings that are far less straightforward, and in some cases, just downright baffling.

images-2Let’s take alcohol for example…more specifically, alcoholic beverages ordered for a woman by a complete and total stranger. It’s no secret what motivates a man to send a drink across a crowded bar to a woman he’s never met. What I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around, however, is once he’s made the choice to do so, how does he decide exactly what kind of drink he should send her way?

I sometimes wonder if the beverage of choice could be based on where he guesses the woman might be from, thereby sending her something along the lines of a Long Island Iced Tea, a Cape Cod or even an Alabama Slammer.

It’s also crossed my mind that perhaps a man might try to dig more deeply by attempting to decipher what he thinks her personality might be like. If that’s the case, he could end up sending her anything from a Flirtini to a Nutty Irishman.

My last guess, and perhaps the one that exhibits the least amount of class, is the theory that he chooses the drink based on one of her features that he finds particularly attractive, in which case he could send a Body Shot, a Fuzzy Navel (hey, each to his own) or if he’s especially bold, a Slippery….well, you get the picture.

Of course, in the end, it’s probably most likely that he relies on the recommendation of the bartender. I recently read, “Bar culture is your first step into the grown-up party world.” If that’s true, then an experienced bartender is the complete Czar of that party world. As a result, I’ve always imagined that he or she, after only one ruthless glance in a woman’s direction, can state immediately (usually in an intimidating foreign accent) exactly what kind of drink would best suit her.

Now, some of you may be wondering why on Earth I even bother to spend time pondering the dating habits of men in bars, and I agree, it’s a little weird. The reason, however, is simple. I’ve actually been on the receiving end of one of those unexpected offerings sent by a complete stranger across a crowded bar, and although it happened several hundred years ago when I was in my late-twenties, it remains one of the single most bizarre experiences of my life.

I guess I should have known early on when my first romance ended in turmoil that I was doomed when it came to understanding the best ways to communicate with the opposite sex. I was nine. He was ten. And I pretty much thought he was “it-on-a-stick”. His name was Billy Enoch and he lived only a few streets away. That meant that not only did I often see him walking to school Iooking all dashing in his Wranglers and Dukes of Hazard t-shirts, but I was also gifted with many opportunities to see him ride by my house on his super hip Huffy dirt bike. The number attached to the bottom of the safety bar clearly indicated that his bike had all the power and speed of The General Lee itself. I mean, let’s be honest ladies, how much more could a girl of nine possibly be expected to take before just giving in and falling hopelessly in love? Add to that the fact that Billy was one of the very best kickball pitchers in all of the fourth grade, and it didn’t take long for me to be a total goner.

11025645_10203856759086109_7793198243476413203_nThe problem, of course, was getting his attention and tricking him into falling in love with me as deeply as I’d fallen for him. This, I assure you, was no easy task. First of all, here’s a picture of me in the fourth grade. Enough said.

Knowing that I had my work cut out for me, I tried everything I could think of to turn his head in my direction. Though I’d love to report that I decided to rid myself of the gigantic glasses that masked 75% of my face and took drastic measures to tame that raging cowlick, those tactics didn’t even cross my mind. Instead, my first plan of attack was to wear only my red-tag Levis every day because everyone knew that the orange tagged ones were so not cool. After that attempt fell on blind eyes, I tried my best to make myself look a little more girly by invoking images I’d once seen in a calendar of Marilyn Monroe draped in pink fabric. The best way to do that, I figured, was to begin wearing the pink L.L. Bean chamois shirt my mother had insisted on buying me instead of the forest green, navy blue and red ones I wore every other day. The end result of that little experiment only made me plummet further into the depths of despair when another boy in my class took one look at me on the first day I wore it and stated, very matter of factly, that if I didn’t wear glasses, and if my hair was long enough to put in braids, I’d look exactly like Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie.

The worst part? He was right. Marilyn

Lord Almighty. Only I would try my darnedest to look like America’s most famous sex symbol only to end up summoning the likeness of a buck toothed little girl who spent the best part of her day wearing pantaloons and sitting by a creek holding a fishing pole.

Needless to say, I pretty much gave up at that point. I mean, for crying out loud, if draping myself in cotton candy colored felt didn’t work, then what on Earth would?

While I’ll never be 100% certain, to this day I believe that in the end, the answer to that question was…citrus. Lemons to be exact. No, I didn’t draw him in by coating my lips in the Bonnie Bell lemonade flavored lip gloss that all the girls were wearing and smacking my lips in his direction, and I most certainly did not drown myself in lemon scented body spray (I stuck with my Love’s Baby Soft thank you very much). What I’m talking about here is the real deal. Lemons…as in…the actual fruit. Don’t ask me why, but I used to take freshly cut lemons and eat them every single day at snack time and I always shared them with Billy. The truth is, I have absolutely no idea how or why I began that little ritual, but many of the other girls in my class did it too…it was a thing. All I know is that one morning, only a few weeks after giving up all hope of being noticed, I was the recipient of a folded up note (most likely passed from one sticky, lemon juice coated hand to another as it made its way to my desk), asking me to “go out” with Billy. The bottom of the letter, no joke, respectfully requested that I please check yes or no and return it ASAP. Oh, I checked yes alright, and when I did, I added no less than ten exclamation points and made a border of hearts all around that box just to make sure he knew that I meant business.

I’m not going to lie, my courtship with Billy was the best 6 hours of my life.

After lunch that day he was the king of the kickball field and I…well naturally, I was his queen. Though we didn’t end up on the same team at recess, we cheered each other on and exchanged secret smiles as our teams switched positions from being in the field to being up to the plate. After Billy single handedly resolved a somewhat heated argument about whether or not the pitcher on my team was purposely “spinning” the ball to make it more difficult for it to be kicked, I pretty much started making plans for our wedding.

smurLater that day, since only two blocks separated my house from his, we ended up walking home together. Even though we’d experienced a successful first day as an item, things suddenly got weird since, for the first time all day, we were actually alone. For months we’d been friends and conversations had always come easily, but it became clear to both of us during that walk that somehow things were different. Being only nine years old, the only lessons in the art of seduction I’d ever witnessed were those I’d seen played out by Miss Piggy in her misguided efforts to capture the affections of Kermit that Frog and the pathetic attempts of Brainy Smurf (with whom I shared an apparent preference for wearing glasses the size of Texas) to win the heart of Smurfette. As I’d never seen either of them meet with too much success, that didn’t give me much to go on. As a result, I had absolutely no experience when it came to the kind of smooth talk required under the circumstances and not a single clue as to what to do or say.

At first we talked about the kickball game at recess and how we both thought it was high time we started having different kids be captains since the teams always ended up the same (it only seemed right that, as the reigning king and queen, these kinds of decisions were ours to make). When that conversation ended we talked about how we couldn’t wait for it to snow because there were so many great hills to slide down near the school.

After that…silence. The kind of silence that is so loud it practically makes your ears bleed. I’ve explained in past blog posts how ineptly I behave when trying to impress someone I’m enamored with, so you can imagine how utterly disastrous it was when, in a desperate attempt to fill the air with something other than the sound of silence, I somehow ended up blurting, “Your last name is Enoch. My friend Katrina has a dog named Enoch……..You have the same name as a dog I know!” And then, when his eyes (which had instantaneously become two seething slits atop a very pained expression) finally locked on mine, my nerves elevated to an even higher level of angst and I made things even worse by adding, “I can’t stand dogs.”

Smooth move Exlax.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you in the least to learn that Billy didn’t really appreciate being compared to a dog. In fact, he made that super clear the first thing the next morning by sending me a break up letter. This time there were no boxes to check and no Karyn + Billy (TLA) scribbled in colored pencil in the margins. Nope. Just one sentence letting me know in no uncertain terms that not only was he breaking up with me, but he was planning to ask my friend Amy to go out with him instead.

Just perfect.

Is it any wonder then, that all these years later, even though I’ve been married for 13 years, that I’m still somewhat bewildered by the world of “bar culture” and dating? Honestly,  I find myself as confused by it now as I did when I was nine. And that brings me to the point of this story and the revelation of just what kind of gift I was treated to one Saturday night when I was sitting at a local pub with a group of friends.

It was the first and only time in my life that I’d ever bellied up to the actual bar in a restaurant instead of getting a table. The plan for the weekend had originally been to go camping with some co-workers, but as the weather predicted it to rain all weekend (thanks be to God!) we changed our plans and went to see a movie. I’d suggested we see the new movie Hope Floats because I’d heard it was a comedy. I thought that might liven the spirits of my friends who were far more disappointed about the cancelled camping festivities than I was.

Turns out seeing that particular movie was a bad idea. Why? Because not only was Hope Floats not a comedy, it was one of the saddest movies we’d ever seen and we all left the theater bawling our eyes out.

Oops.

So there we were, sitting at the bar drowning our sorrows and trying to make a plan for another possible camping adventure, when I got the surprise of a lifetime. It seemed like everyone else in town was trying to escape the rain, too, because I’d never seen the place so crowded. Over the course of the several hours we were there, we struck up conversations with tourists who were enjoying their first trip to Maine and who were headed for the ocean as soon as the rain ended, we spent time talking to some new graduates from the University of Maine, one of whom had just turned 21 and was sure to be bedridden for the next day or two after the way she was celebrating that night, and we also spent time interacting with members of a bachelorette party who, even though I was only 27 years old at the time, made me feel ancient.

Being surrounded by so many characters in the course of only a few hours, I never really took notice of the fact that I’d apparently caught some young man’s eye, but as luck would have it, that’s exactly what I’d done. Having grown up watching men like Jack Tripper on Three’s Company send women drinks in bars with some success, or the many episodes of The Love Boat in which romance bloomed when a man sent a woman a drink after noticing her across the crowded pool deck, I always thought I had a pretty good idea of how the whole scenario played itself out. The bartender would take the order from the hopeful fellow, and then, after making the drink, he or she would deliver some beautiful cocktail garnished with fresh fruit speared by a tiny plastic sword or adorned with a brightly colored mini umbrella.

I should have known better.

As I sat on the barstool surrounded by new friends and old, and listening to stories of graduations and vacation plans, I was somewhat surprised when the bartender tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention. Knowing that I still had a half a mug of Woodchuck Cider left to finish, and that he couldn’t possibly be asking if I needed a refill already, I automatically assumed that I’d once again knocked over my friend’s water glass (as I’d already done twice in the last hour). Starting in with my automatic apology as I spun the stool around, I realized quickly that not only was the water glass still completely full, but the bartender was standing there smirking at me with his hands on his hips. As he didn’t say anything, I just looked back at him and tried to figure out the reason he had such a strangely amused look on his face.

Seeing the confused expression on my face, he turned suddenly and pointed to a man sitting on the other side of the bar. After being pointed at, the man shot me a quick smile and a wave, and then just simply seemed to wait. Taking that as his cue, the bartender turned back to me and said, “He wanted you to have this.”

And that’s when I finally saw it.

Sitting in front of me all along was the first and only item that I’ve ever been sent by a stranger in a bar. Only it wasn’t a beautiful cocktail decorated with a cute little umbrella…and it most certainly wasn’t a colorful drink bursting with freshly cut fruit.

It was a plate of chicken fingers.

That’s right. Breaded chicken fried in grease.

Oh, and a two gallon vat of blue cheese to go along with it.

Never having been the official recipient of anything (let alone something off the appetizer menu for the love of God) from a complete stranger, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. On television the women were always able to remove the swords from the drinks and take dainty bites of the fruit that had been attached to them or take the tiny umbrellas to spin between their fingers while smiling in the direction of the men who’d sent them. UnknownBut this was real life, and somehow, dipping a piece of fried chicken the size of a brick into a plastic cup oozing with blue cheese dressing and twirling it between my fingers didn’t exactly seem right, not to mention the fact that it no doubt would have ended up all over the front of my shirt. I would have ended up looking like a toddler making a mess at the craft table in a pre-school classroom. It was in that moment that I suddenly felt as helpless as I had so many years before on that walk home with Billy…and we all know how that turned out.

So, what did I do? Well, the first thing was to try to ignore the absolute riotous laughter of my friends who’d watched the whole scene unfold with frantic delight. A few of them laughed so hard they actually needed to remove themselves from the situation and go walk around for a bit until they could catch their breath. Others just patted me on the back and taunted me with whispers like, “Hey, you should go for it, you’re no spring chicken you know,” and other fantastic chicken related quips.

After making the realization that I wasn’t going to be getting help from my buddies anytime soon, I simply looked across the bar and found the man still looking my way. To show my sincere appreciation, I raised my glass of cider, mouthed the words, “Thank you,” and hoped like heck he couldn’t hear what my friends were saying. In response, he waved back, lifted his John Deere hat in the air, and gave me a thumbs up.

How’s that for romance?

Did I eat the chicken fingers? You bet. Every last one. I’m only human after all. Did I end up talking with the kind soul who’d sent them my way? I’m not proud of it, but no, no I did not. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I ended up leaving about thirty minutes later, and as I was making my exit, I gave a wave in his direction…a gesture that was met this time with two enthusiastic thumbs up.

God love both of us.

As I sit here seventeen short years later and reflect on that night, all I can do is laugh. To be honest though, if I were to analyze the situation using my own theories about the ways men behave in bars and the reasons they send the drinks (and apparently, appetizers) that they do, it leaves me feeling just a bit perplexed.

I wrote earlier that I sometimes wonder if the beverage a man decides to send a woman could be based on where he guesses she might be from. Well, according to that theory, I can’t help but wonder…did that guy think I lived on a farm? Had I’d not shed the Laura Ingalls likeness even after all those years?

If I consider the other theory that I put forth, the one that suggests that perhaps a man bases the drink on what he thinks a woman’s personality might be like…could he actually have been calling me a coward? I can just picture him sitting there thinking Oh, she looks like a real chicken…I guess I’ll send her a plate of deep fried confidence.

And finally, the theory that is perhaps the most upsetting, is the one that suggests a man chooses the drink based on one of the woman’s features that he finds particularly attractive. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I have man-hands…but being an English teacher who’s always trying to read between the lines, could it really be possible that he thought my hands just looked downright Finger Licking Good?

I guess I’ll never know.

Last but not least, there’s my belief that it’s most likely that many men rely on the recommendation of the bartender. If that were the case in my situation, the bartender had an accent alright, but it was a Maine accent. You simply cannot imagine the horror and heartbreak that sweep through me when I think about the conversation between him and the man in the green and yellow hat as they sized me up…a conversation that clearly led to the final conclusion that…bottom line… I just looked like someone who’d be lured by a gigantic platter of deep fried poultry.

How does that even happen? Seriously, how?

In the end, I consider myself a very lucky lady. Over the years, just like most women, I’ve been on the receiving end of candy, flowers, and jewelry, but frankly, it’s those darn chicken fingers that will remain one of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever been given. All these years later, my only regret is that, at the time, I didn’t show more kindness to the man who sent them to me. I should have gone over to thank him personally, and at the very least, offered to share the plate with him. He’d made an attempt to make a connection, and looking back, I find myself admiring him for the courage he must have had to do so. While I’ll never be sure why in the world he decided that fried chicken might just be the way to my heart, he did something that I could never do. If I got the chance to apologize to him today, I’d tell him that I appreciated the gesture, and then I’d try to explain that the reason I didn’t thank him more appropriately was because of the fact that, well…I was just too chicken.

That’s Good Enough For Me

It was the early 90s. I was young. I was in love. I didn’t care who knew it.

Like most young girls who taped pictures of cute boys to the inside of their lockers, pencil boxes and Trapper Keepers, I adorned my bedroom with photos of the young man who’d captured my heart. While it’s true that I was a senior in college and the fact that I still participated in that kind of ritual was, admittedly, slightly unsettling for those who knew me, that’s not really the point.

His name was Andrew, and though we hadn’t ever gone to the same schools or even lived in the same state, and even though he graduated from college the same year I was a senior in high school, there was a time in my life when I really thought he was the man I would spend the rest of my life with. I mean, so what if there was a four year age difference? And who cared if we lived in cities that were hundreds of miles apart? Those weren’t factors that really mattered because the list of things we had in common was endless. First of all, we both loved soccer. He was a star player in high school and college, and though to this very day I’m still in shock college scouts somehow missed the chance to add me to their future rosters, didn’t I play my heart out in that right halfback position for the Bangor High School Rams from 1987-1989? You bet I did. Does it really matter if most of that playing time occurred when my team was up by 5 goals or down by 10? It most certainly does not.

As if our mutual interest in soccer wasn’t enough to convince the world that Andrew and I were a match made in heaven, there was a huge mountain of evidence from which I could pull to further my case. Take the fact, for example, that we were both raised on the East Coast; he in New Jersey and I in Maine. I mean, if that doesn’t just scream soulmates I don’t know what does.

Need more proof?  His name was Andrew…and growing up, you’re not going to believe this, but I once had a neighbor named…Andrew. See what I mean? Meant to be. 

Still not convinced? Well, are you sitting down? After he graduated from college, Andrew went to Zimbabwe to teach math and play soccer and I….I was going to college to become a teacher at the time AND 9 times out of 10 I could locate Zimbabwe on a map on my very first try (okay 4 out of 10 if I’m being honest). So, there you have it. The defense rests.

By now you must be wondering so, what on earth was the problem? Well, I admit, the one hurdle I faced in being able to find true happiness with Andrew was somewhat difficult to surpass, but it certainly was not one that other couples throughout history hadn’t overcome trillions of times. That one teeny barrier in our relationship was the fact that…well, to make a long story short…we had technically never met.

Nope. Not even once.

Why not? The perfectly logical explanation for that is that in addition to being an outstanding athlete and brilliant mathematician, he was also an actor…on Melrose Place.

Don’t you dare judge me.

Being an English major in college and working 35 hours a week as a waitress at the same time was not the most fun I’d ever had. It was hard work, and if I needed something to take my mind off the countless essays I had to write comparing and contrasting the shenanigans and characters those crazy Bronte sisters brought to life in the pages of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, well then excuse me for living.

Each week, if only for just an hour, I would sit down and escape to Melrose Place where the characters’ lives made my little existence as both a full time student and waitress just a little more bearable. At the end of a long day after attending classes and writing papers, or better yet, after seven hours of asking customers if they wanted french fries, baked potatoes, rice or curly fries with their chicken, burger or steak, I would sit down and watch Andrew act the heck out of that role as Billy Campbell and leave my woes behind.

Over time, however, my imaginary love affair with Andrew faded slowly away, and other than a brief run-in with an intoxicated customer on my second to last night of waitressing in which I found it necessary to defend his honor, I handled the end of our relationship pretty well. I’d walked into the lounge at the restaurant where I worked after my shift was over, and for some reason, Melrose Place was on one of the televisions (must have been a slow night for sports). One of the men sitting at the bar was talking about the show, so needless to say, my ears perked up. As luck would have it, I caught him right as he boldly exclaimed that the guy playing Billy was the same exact actor who played Tommy Bradford on Eight is Enough

WHAT?

Invoking my infinite wisdom, I didn’t see one single thing wrong with correcting him and letting him know that he’d made a ghastly mistake, that they were definitely two different actors. Is it my fault he got all surly, spun around on his barstool and slurred, “Sorry Sweetheart, but you’re wrong. My niece loves Billy and she’s the one that told me it’s the same guy.”

Okay. Game time, Buster. His niece loved Billy did she? Oh, I’d show him who loved Billy.

It was late. I was tired from having packed all day in preparation for moving to another town a few days later, and I just wanted to go drown my exhaustion in a plate of beef nachos. Honestly, was that really too much to ask? The last thing I wanted to do was deal with someone who thought they knew more about Andrew Shue than I did, but having no other choice, I turned slowly and purposefully and gave that fellow my steeliest stare. Not seeming the aaleast bit intimidated, he just sat there grinning on the bar stool as I advanced on him. Though it would have been so much more dramatic if I’d had an entire room to storm across, I angrily took the two and a half steps necessary to get within an inch of his face, and using as much control as I could muster, declared, “Andrew Shue, the guy who plays Billy, was born in 1967. Tommy Bradford was a teenager. Andrew Shue would have been ten years old when that show first came out. Does that make any kind of sense to you?”

When he just stared back at me blankly, I continued by proclaiming that there was no way on God’s green Earth that Andrew Shue was playing Tommy Bradford in the late 70s. Why?  Because he was too busy being a soccer star and getting the kind of grades needed to get him into Dartmouth one day. And finally, just for good measure, I stomped my foot and yelled just a bit more loudly than intended, “You should tell your niece to check her facts before she keeps making a fool out of herself!” (No, the pathetic irony of that last ridiculous declaration is not lost on me.) Not only was that comment met with confusion by the man who’d unintentionally engaged me in battle, but the elevated volume of my voice had drawn the attention of a few other customers, not to mention my manager. Not wanting to make any more of a scene (and also because I really was craving those nachos) I untied the apron I was still wearing with a vengeance, and with eyes still glued to the man on the stool, draped that apron over my arm like a boss and marched over to my seat.

Hand to the Lord, it may just be one of the most pathetic displays I’ve ever made in public, but what’s done is done. In retrospect, my anger that night could possibly be described as irrational and my tirade as somewhat of an overreaction, but hey, he messed with the bull…he got the horns.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m choosing to document a childish story about the crush I had on a character from a television show twenty years ago, and frankly, I don’t blame you. But the fact that at one time in my life I wanted nothing more than to be Mrs. Andrew Shue is not the real story here. The best part of this epic tale is that only ten years after that wretched night that I pathetically let the world know just how much I knew about Andrew Shue (before Google, mind you) in the middle of a dimly lit sports lounge surrounded by men eating Beer Nuts and popcorn until they had to lie down, is that I actually got to meet him.

Yes. The man himself.

I met Andrew Shue.

It probably won’t surprise you to discover that like most other major events in my life, the actual encounter was nothing less than a complete disaster. The meeting took place not as a result of me winning the grand prize in some ridiculous “Meet Your Favorite Aaron Spelling Star!” contest, and no, not because I was brought up on federal charges for stalking the poor guy (I know it crossed your mind). No, in the end, the opportunity to meet him came about because of the fact that I became a teacher. As it turned out, his father, Jim (yes, I was on a first name basis with his father, can you EVEN believe it?) moved his family, including two of Andrew’s younger siblings, to the town where I was teaching, and as luck would have it, I crossed paths with both of them.

I will never, not as long as I live, forget the afternoon that I was overseeing my study hall and one of the students blurted, “Hey, Mrs. Field, did you know Jenna’s brother and sister are famous?” Feeling 100% certain that I was being set up for some ridiculous punchline, I decided to bite, and responded, “No, I didn’t. What are they famous for?” Never in one million years was I prepared to hear, “One of them was in The Karate Kid and the other was on Melrose Place.” My heart stopped. The room started spinning. I’m pretty sure I lost consciousness to tell you the truth. But once I realized everyone was looking at me, including young Jenna Shue (HOW HAD I OVERLOOKED THAT LAST NAME?) I took a few deep breaths and simply looked at her and said, “That must be pretty neat.”

Even all these years later I’m still in shock that I was able to contain myself. However, at the time, I only knew Jenna from having her in study hall a few times a week, and it was only a couple weeks into the school year. I found her to be a sweet, quiet young lady, and I certainly wasn’t about to grill her about her family. Instead, I went back to my desk and nearly imploded as I tried to get on with my work.

Over the next three years, I was lucky enough to work with both Jenna and Harvey Shue, both as their director in the school play, and as Harvey’s 8th grade Language Arts teacher. Working with him during that time, I came to know him as a wonderful, hardworking young man with an absolutely fantastic sense of humor. Very rarely did he bring up the topic of his famous siblings, but at the same time, whenever some curious person did bring up the subject, he didn’t back away from it either. Being the professional that I am, I never brought it up first, but if I happened to be around when a conversation about the talented siblings was taking place, I most certainly piped in. The one and only time that I ever made mention of the fact that I thought his brother was  the bees knees, I said it calmly and casually, and just simply stated that if I remembered correctly (oh, I remembered alright!), I was a pretty big fan of his siblings, Andrew especially, and I even had a poster of his brother hanging on a wall in my apartment in college when I was far too old for that kind of thing to be socially acceptable.

Down the road, it was the school play that finally (oh yes, finally!) brought Andrew Shue into my life for real. Having earned the lead role in our play, The Great All American Musical Disaster, during his eighth grade year, Harvey approached me on the afternoon before the opening performance when he found me standing in front of the stage taking care of last minute details. As he walked away from me after dropping off his costume backstage, he said, “Oh, and by the way Mrs. Field, my brother’s coming to our play tonight.”

Unable to believe that I’d actually heard him correctly, I spun around and asked, “What do you mean your brother’s coming to our play tonight?” Though I meant for it to sound casual, if not even a little disinterested, the question came out sounding more like the ecstatic squeal my little brother released on the morning he discovered Conway Archibald, his long awaited Cabbage Patch Kid, sitting in a box under the tree one Christmas morning.

Harvey stopped, turned around, and responded, “I mean that my brother, Andrew, is coming to the play tonight.” And then with a big smirk on his face he added,  “And don’t worry, I’ve told him all about you.”

Not wanting to appear too concerned, but at the very same time convinced that because of the pounding in my chest I only had two minutes to live, I not so casually demanded, “What exactly does that mean?”

Smiling even more widely, he replied, “I told him exactly what you told me. And what you told me is that you liked him so much that you had a poster of him when it was no longer even a little bit cool for someone your age to have one.”

Sweet Sassy Molassy that kid had a memory like an elephant.

Since that incident occurred eleven years ago, and at a time when I used to eat my feelings, I immediately regretted the fact that I’d just inhaled five cupcakes to deal with my nerves about the play opening that evening. I also wished I’d made another clothing choice as the floral printed skirt and black blazer I was wearing suddenly didn’t seem all that fashion savvy. 8e015d4d3e528887d8f966cbee354455Throw a doily or a string of pearls around my neck and I was one feather infested hat away from being a dead ringer for one of the Baldwin sisters peddling Papa’s Recipe to all of Walton’s Mountain. Let’s just say, it’s not exactly how I imagined looking if the time ever came that I got to meet the man of my dreams. But then again, meeting the man of my dreams in a middle school “cafetorium” surrounded by posters sporting dancing fruits and vegetables and a whiteboard menu with the words “100% all beef franks and potato puffs” scrawled across it wasn’t exactly what I’d pictured either. I guess I’d have to take what I could get.

Though I could have easily spiraled into the depths of despair at that moment, I actually didn’t have too much time to worry because before long, thanks be to God, the cast members in the show began arriving. Instead of fretting over what clothing might have been a better option for my unexpected meeting, I found myself focused on dealing with kids who were experiencing panic attacks about getting ready to appear on stage for the very first time in their lives and steaming wrinkles out of costumes that would melt if we tried to iron them. The only time I did come close to having a panic attack of my very own about the fact that my one time (sort of) fiancee was going to be in the audience in less than 45 minutes, I walked in on a young sobbing actor whose little brother had shown up backstage to make fun of him for having to wear makeup. So, rather than dealing with my own nerves, I spent the time drying the tears of a 12 year old boy whose mascara was running down his face as he repeatedly wailed, “I do NOT look like a girl!” while blowing his nose into makeup remover wipes over and over again.

Good times. Who says it’s not a truly glamorous life I lead?

Add to all of that the further chaos related to getting 28 middle schoolers set to perform in front of almost 300 people, and I all but forgot about the fact that Andrew Shue was going to be sitting in the audience that night.

I forgot, that is, until I found myself standing in front of that same crowd of almost 300 people with a microphone in my hand.

Not good. Not good at all.

As is the case every year, I took the floor just before the play began to say a few words and to remind the audience about the food that would be available for purchase during the intermission. I’d just finished announcing that all the proceeds from the intermission sales would be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network, when I remembered he was there. Within a nano-second I was drenched in sweat, and just as I felt the first bead of perspiration roll down the side of my face, I spotted him. There he sat, smiling in all of his magnificent glory, about four rows back from where I was standing.

What happened next is the stuff of nightmares. No, really. It is. Because what happened next is that I quite literally lost all ability to retrieve words, let alone say them out loud. The next part of my speech was supposed to let the audience know that videos of the performance would be for sale at the intermission as well, and that all of those proceeds would also be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network. Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

In fact, relaying that information to the audience that evening turned out to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

After making the initial eye contact and seeing that smile that had only become more dazzling over the last decade, I tried my best to remain cool, calm, and collected, but my brain had completley shut down. I knew I needed to mention the videos, but when I opened my mouth to speak, try as I might, I only managed to croak, “Okay, also at the intermission we will be selling….um….ah…er…we will be…sell..ing…” God help me, I could see the image of a VHS tape in my mind, and I knew the word I was searching for began with a V, but for the life of me I could not remember what it was.

Desperate, and realizing anything was better than standing there looking and sounding like a fool, I decided that surely the best way to say what needed to be said was with an impromptu game of charades. Much to the surprise of just about everyone in the audience, including my poor husband who was in the front row, I raised my hand in the air and did my best to draw a rectangle. When the audience just sat in stunned silence, I took that as a sure sign that all they needed was a little more prompting, and began to wildly draw a series of very large rectangles with both hands. Unbeknownst to me at the time, in addition to the unintentional interpretive dance I’d begun, I was also inadvertently expressing my frustration into the microphone by making a series of super classy grunting noises.fedba91360cf41152d340f22d2450a4e I’m pretty sure Chris Farley’s portrayal of Matt Foley, the motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river, was both more attractive and far less offensive than I was in that moment…wild gesticulations and all.

So much for making a good first impression.

Completely helpless, I finally looked to my husband who, as it turned out, had been frantically mouthing the word vid-e-o to me over and over again from his seat just a few feet away. I can’t imagine that being granted a stay of execution could feel any better than the relief I felt at that moment, but unfortunately, all of that relief came out in one sharp gasp of breath and spit as I picked up the microphone and traumatized the audience by loudly hissing, “Video tapes! We will be selling video tapes of the performance….. at the intermission….out in the lobby!” Then, yet again channelling motivational speaker Matt Foley, I wiped my face clear of the sweat that was now gushing from every pore on my face and waited for the horror to pass.

After hearing all of this, one might think that that moment would have been a perfect time to call it quits and just take a seat, but that is not what I chose to do. Having gained confidence (albeit a shred) by finally being able to string a sentence together, I decided to finish what I’d set out to do and remind the audience that the proceeds from the video tapes would also be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network. It seemed like a pretty easy task, and at the very least, we would head into the opening of the show on a positive note. After all, how difficult would one more reminder be… the situation couldn’t possibly get any more awkward than already was, right?

Wrong.

Reminding myself that it would be a very very bad idea to make any further eye contact with Andrew Shue, I began round two by holding the microphone up to my mouth with both hands as steadily as possible to make sure I didn’t slam it up against my giant horse teeth (at that moment in time I was certain that the only way the situation could possibly get any worse was if I were to be bleeding from the mouth). After getting the microphone somewhat steady in my hands, I went full speed ahead, and making sure to keep my voice light, said, “Now that we’re all aware that video tapes will be for sale, I just want to remind you one more time that every cent of those sales will be donated to (accidental eye contact made)…to….um…ah…er…the money’s going to go to the…..(Sweet Mother of God)…to the….um…(are you ready for this?)….ahh…..to the….Children’s MIRACULOUS FUND.”

No, I’m not kidding. I replaced the words Miracle Network with the words Miraculous Fund and there was not a single thing I could do about it.

Mortified to my very core, yet still unable to recall the actual name of the charity, I looked around at the faces of the audience members in hopes of finding a savior, or at the very least, someone who had a pocketbook large enough for me to crawl inside. Some people were snickering, some were looking around (most likely for the paramedics as they must have felt certain I was having a stroke) and still others looked on wearing expressions of sympathy or concern. It was then that I found my mom, and the look of helpless anxiety on her face remains burned into my memory to this very day. The only other time in my life that I’d seen her face so stricken was when I was ten years old and found myself standing in front of yet another microphone. Twenty three years prior to that moment, I’d stood on stage during my fourth grade spelling bee and added an h to the beginning of the word onion for all the world to hear. (Only two days before I’d spelled the word honor incorrectly by leaving off the h at the beginning, and I would be darned if that silent h was going to get me again, especially in front of all those people.) The rest, as they say, is history, and I went down in round two of the spelling bee that year just like I was going down in a blaze of glory in round two of trying to impress a man who’d held my adoration for decades.

Finding myself  standing in front of an extremely unsettled audience and wishing to spontaneously combust, I sought help from the same person I’d gone to earlier. I looked at my husband who, though he was no longer smiling, was once again dramatically mouthing words in my direction. This time, however, he was commanding me to, “SIT DOWN NOW!” And really, who could  blame him?

But sit down I did. I sat down, caught my breath, received a few sympathetic pats on the back from the people around me, and prayed that I would wake up at any minute and realize it’d all been one gigantic nightmare.

Once the curtain opened, however, I was able to forget my worries and enjoy a really great play. As always, my husband and I sat back and proudly enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The actors on stage had the audience rolling in their seats for the entire show, and when the final curtain went down, I could only pray that what people would walk away remembering was the outstanding performances of the students and not the ridiculousness of my faux pas earlier in the evening.

About ten minutes before the show ended, I made the realization that Harvey would more than likely be planning to introduce his brother to me when it was over. That meant I had several minutes to prepare. To come up with some clever, sophisticated remarks that I could make after we were introduced….comments that would be so charming that Andrew would forget all about the babbling I’d done earlier that night and instead, he would leave the school that evening feeling like I may just have been the one that got away.

Unknown-1Oh, yes. I could do it. I still had time to make a good impression on my long lost love. I’d once watched with my very own eyes the episode of The Brady Bunch when Marsha survived meeting her celebrity crush, Davey Jones, and by God, if she could do it, then so could I. I could and I would.

I didn’t.

As I’d predicted, following the curtain call, Harvey made his way to me, took ahold of my arm, and said, “Mrs. Field, I want to introduce you to my brother.” Feeling as prepared as I was ever going to be, I let him take my arm and walk me over to where his family was standing. As we walked, I reminded myself to breath and negotiated with the Gods above by offering them my first born child if they would just please, please, please keep me from breaking out into a sweat so that I wouldn’t look like a drowned rat. When Andrew Shue took my hand to shake it just after Harvey introduced us, I remained steady on my feet, looked him right in the eyes, and made every effort not to smile like a crazy woman. The first words out of his mouth were, “Wow, Mrs. Field, you must be extremely proud.”

This was it. This was my chance to show him that I was not a blundering idiot, but instead, a suave, articulate, and refined educator capable of drawing out award winning performances from each and every student actor I ever came into contact with. Thinking it far more polite to giggle rather than to let loose the guffaw that was swimming around inside my head before I spoke, I kept my eyes on his (bad idea in the end) and slurred, “Proud of what?”

So, there you have it. Instead of looking, acting and sounding suave, articulate and refined, I ended up looking, acting, and sounding like someone who’d just come out of having her wisdom teeth removed. A person with a mouth so full of cotton and a bloodstream so full of pain meds that she looked like a raving lunatic and could hardly be understood. Lord have mercy.

The look of consternation that first appeared on his face quickly turned to one of a more sympathetic nature as he very kindly turned, pointed at the stage, and politely said, “Of the performance the kids gave tonight.”

Oh, yes. That.

To be totally honest, I don’t really remember much of what happened after that. I do know that we conversed for several minutes. I know I told him how much I enjoyed working with Harvey and how much I loved teaching. I think we talked about the process my husband and I use to choose plays with large casts so that we can get as many kids involved as possible, etc. The good news is that I never did fully lose my mind and run shrieking from the building like I’d wanted to so many times during the events that unfolded that evening. I even kept my wits together long enough to have my picture taken with him. The photograph that resulted from that evening is one that I coveted for years, and then, when I moved several years ago, it disappeared into thin air. I have searched every box, every closet, every drawer, and under every bed in my house in an attempt to be able to provide that picture for this blog post, but alas, its current location remains a mystery. (For the record, if there is anyone out there who does have a copy of that photo, or any other photo that might have been taken of me with Andrew Shue that night, I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE IT!)

As I sit here and put this memory into words, the events of that long ago evening seem almost surreal, even to me. It’s been 11 years since that March night when I met Andrew Shue in the very building where I still teach. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of that night often, because I do. But instead of remembering it like a love sick school girl, I look back on it and think how lucky I am to have ever had the opportunity to meet him in the first place.

Would I like a do-over? Of course. But, knowing me, I’d be no more presentable today than I was a decade ago, and no matter how hard I’d try, I’d still more than likely grunt, groan, drool, slur, spit and sputter my way through any interaction we might have. He’s just that cool. So cool, in fact, that if you Google his name these days you often see the term “internet mogul” next to it. The very fact that my internet capabilities max out when and if I’m able to correctly remember my Gmail password each day pretty much speaks for itself.

DOInstead, these days, much like I used to do years ago, I sometimes remind myself of the things Andrew and I have in common. First and foremost, he was a male heartthrob and I…well, I don’t like to brag, but I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I once bore an uncanny resemblance to one-time male heartthrob Donny Osmond. So there’s something.

Also, I think it’s important to note that while I was teaching novels like Great Expectations to my eighth graders, Andrew was still starring on Melrose Place. In fact, on February 3,1997, he even appeared in an episode titled Great Sexpectations (it’s true, you can Google it). I mean, come on, that has to be more than just a mere coincidence. Am I right?

Lastly, Andrew is married to the absolutely heroic (not to mention stunning) Amy Robach, who is an anchorwoman on Good Morning America. Though not too many people know this, I went to college majoring in Communications, but after being deemed “too giggly” by one of my professors (really Sir, is that the technical term for it?) to pursue my one time dream of being a television news anchor, I switched my major and set my sights on becoming a teacher (which ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made). Either way, that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

In all seriousness, the thing that I really am the most proud of having in common with Andrew Shue these days is a shared passion for believing in the amazing impact that teenagers can have on this world when they’re given the right tools. As an educator, I tell my students all the time that even though I’m a language arts teacher, and that of course I care about the fact that they become the best readers and writers they can be, I care just as much that they become responsible, informed, and involved citizens. Using the themes and lessons found in the stories and novels that we read in class, I try to instill in my students an understanding that it’s not enough to simply be aware of the struggles others face, but it’s important to understand them from every angle so they can become educated, make informed decisions, and finally do something to help bring about positive change.

It would seem that Andrew Shue agrees. In 1993, the same year I graduated from college and began my middle school teaching career, he cofounded a non-profit organization called Do Something, an organization that strives, to create a culture of volunteerism and activism through social change among young people.” It is one of the largest organizations in the United States that helps youth take action on causes they care about. A visit to the website shows teens taking action against censorship, bias in the media, sexism in the music industry, and bullying in schools just to name a few. It also displays teenagers engaging in creative campaigns to support music education in public schools, to help support our troops abroad, to reduce the stereotypes that exist around people with disabilities, and literally hundreds of other causes.

Andrew-Shue-Billy-Campbell-Melrose-Place-TV-show-promo-poster-xl-size--p1120031 copy

Hey, at the end of the day, do I still think Andrew Shue is a handsome devil? You bet I do. Would I still hang a poster of him up at home or at work if I thought I could get away with it? Yes, I most certainly would. But what matters most is knowing that he and I share one really important similarity; a belief that when teenagers are provided with opportunities to thrive, they will prove just how much good they’re capable of achieving. And if, in the end, the thing we ultimately have in common is the fact that we’re both doing all we can to help make the world a better place by believing in the potential of teenagers, then that’s good enough for me.

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.

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.

 

What A Difference A Decade Makes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-Man Fever that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. The pee. It happened again.

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

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

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

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

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

He was unconscious.

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

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

He’d lost consciousness for the second time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. Cried like a baby, I did.

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

It was truly my darkest hour.

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

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

You can imagine my relief.

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

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

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

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

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

What a difference a decade makes.