Remembering Ralph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line? Ralph was nowhere to be found.

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

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

Yes. It was just that traumatic.

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

And that’s when I saw him.

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

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

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

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

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

I was absolutely dumbfounded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What A Difference A Decade Makes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-Man Fever that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. The pee. It happened again.

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

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

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

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

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

He was unconscious.

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

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

He’d lost consciousness for the second time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. Cried like a baby, I did.

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

It was truly my darkest hour.

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

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

You can imagine my relief.

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

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

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

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

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

What a difference a decade makes.

It Just Doesn’t Get Any More Perfect Than That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s true…everyone says so.

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

Man hands.

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

The kind of hands a man would have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Best Choice I Ever Made

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

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

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

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

Yes…well, we all make mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then something weird happened.

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

Even so, that’s when it hit me.

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

Nope.

tree1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Really Just Need To See Them For Yourself

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

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

No. I’m not kidding.

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

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

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

Yes, that’s right. Her wardrobe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew?

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

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

So…that was fun.

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

Well…happy and somewhat frightened.

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

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

You really just need to see them for yourself.

I Just Did Not See That One Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s when the real fun began.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for this?

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

Yes, I said sniffing.

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

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

Because what I found was a peanut.

That’s right. A peanut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timing is Everything

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

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

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

Oh yes, timing is everything.

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

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

Sweet Mother of God…what had I done?

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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