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.”

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.

What A Difference A Decade Makes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-Man Fever that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. The pee. It happened again.

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

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

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

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

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

He was unconscious.

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

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

He’d lost consciousness for the second time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. Cried like a baby, I did.

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

It was truly my darkest hour.

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

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

You can imagine my relief.

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

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

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

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

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

What a difference a decade makes.

It Just Doesn’t Get Any More Perfect Than That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s true…everyone says so.

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

Man hands.

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

The kind of hands a man would have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Best Choice I Ever Made

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

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

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

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

Yes…well, we all make mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then something weird happened.

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

Even so, that’s when it hit me.

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

Nope.

tree1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Okay With That

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

Well, I’m not an animal lover.

There. I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the same thing every single time.

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

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

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

Just curious.

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

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

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

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

And when I stay straddling I mean straddling.

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

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

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

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