Sunday, April 27, 2014

Practical Magic

Come along with me on a magical journey through time.  I'm uniquely qualified to be your tour guide because I spend nine months out of every year at our destination.  We're going back to high school.  We'll be landing late in the Spring semester of junior year, just four weeks before summer vacation.  The trees have buds, the flowers are in bloom, and it's almost time for the girls to trade in the leggings they've been wearing as "pants" for shorty shorts and too tight tank tops. We're arriving during the week of ACT and state testing and departing just after the event we've been waiting for all year: Prom.

Buckle up, friends.  It's going to be a bumpy ride.

We'll touch down on the Monday before ACT and state testing, so you'll be subjected to session after session of review in your regular classes.  Your English teacher will have a crazed look in her eyes as she delivers a frenzied review to a room full of blank stares; it's Monday, after all.  Why worry about a test that's two days away?  By Tuesday, though, the day before testing, the students' blank stares take a turn toward fear, and there's a ready willingness to listen for last minute advice.  The teacher continues that last minute review, but her frenzy is subdued.  She seems tired, resigned.  Like a doctor who has just issued the last chest compression to a patient that is beyond hope, there is little more that she can do.  As the students file out of her room, she musters the energy to call after them, "Get a good night's sleep!  Have a good breakfast before the test tomorrow!" and she vows she'll do the same because as a test administrator she'll spend nine of the next 48 hours wallowing in the silent pit of test anxiety right alongside them.  On test days she knows how nervous they are because it's the most minutes in a row she's ever seen them quiet.  At the conclusion of the testing marathon she leaves school with a spring in her step until she remembers she has one more obligation to her juniors.  She will chaperon their prom that Saturday night.

That's right, folks.  Time to hop aboard the hormone train; next stop: Grand March.

As she readies herself for the evening, the teacher is acutely aware of how ridiculous it is to be a 36 year old getting ready for prom.  She heads for the door and throws a backwards glance to her son and husband, whom she kindly relieved of his co-chaperoning duties long ago.  They are nestled on the couch, three races deep into a MarioKart tournament, and she fights an urge to kick off her heels and run back toward the comfort of that scene and to the familiar and warm embrace of her sweatpants.  It's the thought of her prom date that keeps her going. He's been her co-class sponsor and partner in crime for many years; together they've lined up the sequined girls and tuxedoed boys for their pilgrimage through the cardboard, streamer-town that's been created on the theater stage.  Before the couples can make their way through tulle-wrapped archway and down the balloon-lined path, he teaches them how to properly walk arm in arm -- girl with her hand in the crook of the boy's arm, NOT locked together at the elbow, square-dance style. She reminds the girls not to tug at their strapless dresses on stage, and with just minutes before the main event, she extends her hand and demands that they deposit their gum right in it because she loves them and doesn't want them to look like cud-chewing cattle when they make their debut under the glow of 10,000 strands of twinkle lights.  Their parents paid hundreds of dollars for the Grand March photo op, so she understands that it must perfect.

Later, at the dance, the teacher and her date will sit with the only other adults in the room and try to enjoy the catered meal.  It will be almost pleasant at the chaperon table as they chat about their own prom memories and try not to notice the gratuitous PDA a couple tables over.  When the lights go down and the music goes up, conversation becomes difficult, and the teacher is left alone with her thoughts:

"Whoa!  Inappropriate dancing while it's still light outside?  I'm gonna let the principal deal with that since she's the one that makes the big bucks."

"Oh, no.  Dancing girls + strapless dresses = recipe for disaster."

"Really?  Aerosmith?  Is it 1976 and/or 1996?"

"Slow dance.  Better check the bathroom for crying girls."

"I wonder if they know that I know all about their after prom plans.  Sure, they think their whispers at the back of my classroom are quiet enough, but they're not.  Not by a long shot." 

"I wonder if this day has been as magical as they thought it'd be.  I wonder if I was ever silly enough to think Prom was magic?  Probably."

"Sweet baby Jesus, how is it only 8:45?"

Because she's been in the trenches with them, she can't help but let their emotions bleed out on to her.  At the conclusion of an anxious week and at the end of the night they've spent months dreaming about, she's happy that they're happy.  She exchanges a weary smile and a "See you Monday, dude" with her date, and as she starts her car she says a little prayer to the God of the Church of Nice that all of her kids make it home safe and sound.

Once home, she washes away the grime of testing week and the glitter of prom night, slips into her favorite sweats, and medicates herself in the best way she knows how:  two pieces of leftover pizza Monical's pizza washed down by one beer, then straight to bed.  As she closes her eyes, she smiles and sets her mind to dream about the final leg of this year's journey. 

Next stop: summer vacation.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Tree-ality

Myth: This year, Owen, Neil and I squeezed our bundled up bodies into the cab of Neil’s truck for our annual pilgrimage to the Christmas tree farm. On the way we sang Christmas carols, and then we merrily wandered around the tree farm until a beam of light descended from the heavens and pointed us in the direction of a perfectly formed Christmas tree.

Reality: This year, we squeezed our bundled up bodies in the cab of Neil’s truck for our annual pilgrimage to the Christmas tree farm (that part was real). We tuned the radio to the only available Christmas music, but the channel seemed only to play songs from an album entitled A Very Adult-Contemporary Christmas, so we made fun of it for as long as we could stand it, and then we shut that shit off. When we arrived at the Christmas tree farm, we agreed to let Owen lead the way. When he veered toward the amorphic, long-needled trees, I urged him to head in the opposite direction -- toward the more perfectly shaped, short-needled variety; you know, the ones shaped more like Christmas trees and less like giant blobs. As it turns out, my five-year-old doesn't share my love of symmetry because he was drawn to the blobbiest of the blob-tree variety. I managed to dissuade him from three or four of his first choices before Neil was forced to intervene.

Myth: In a sweet and subtle tone, Neil urged me to allow our son to choose our Christmas tree on his own.

Reality: In a sarcastic and amused tone, Neil stated what should have been obvious to me. “You’re not in charge here, idiot” he said. And he was right. On both counts.

Myth: Once we purchased our long-needled friend, we jingled all the way back home and trimmed the tree while sipping hot chocolate in front of a crackling fire.

Reality: Once we had already cut down our tree and lugged it back to civilization, we realized that the tree farm didn't accept debit cards, which was the only form of payment we were prepared for, so we left our tree-blob lying on the ground and drove 15 minutes to a neighboring town to get the cash required to make our holiday purchase. And because it was well into the noon hour by the time we headed back in the direction of our tree, we established what will surely become a new holiday tradition: Singing made up lyrics to Feliz Navidad while eating gas station hot dogs.

Myth: Your holiday will be every bit as perfect and magical as you imagined.

Reality: Your holiday will be every bit as rushed and annoying as you remember. BUT, if you allow yourself to scrape the sugar-coating off the idealized holiday that exists only in your mind, and if you stop thinking about what Christmas (or Halloween or Valentine's Day) SHOULD or COULD look like, you will find what is true.  And truth is always better than illusion, and in my experience it's usually twice as funny.

Owen Among the Blobs

Grainy Cell Phone Pics = Reality

Oh, Christmas Tree
Oh, Christmas Tree
Your branches are so flimsy... 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Festival Fever!

On the over-protective mother spectrum, I probably fall somewhere in the middle.  While I am closer to the mom who hoards tiny bottles of hand sanitizer than I am to the mom who only bathes her kids when she can smell them,  I don't bat an eyelash when I hear Owen exclaim, "Still good!" and then watch him pop a recently dropped M&M in his mouth. I would say that I'm moderately picky about exactly what I expose my child to, but there's something about carnival season that makes me throw my standards to the wind.

Last year when a bunch of toothless carnies brought their brand of fun to my town, I happily took Owen to the fair.  "Go ahead, honey," I said,  "Hand your ticket to the nice, dead-behind-the-eyes lady and then make your way into the bowels of that bouncy, inflatable caterpillar!"  "Sure!" I exclaimed, "Hop on that motorcycle roundabout with the awkward and threadbare seat belt configuration!  Have a great time!"  "But mind your manners," I cautioned, "and wait for the man to flick the two inches of ash off his cigarette before handing him your ticket.  Then climb aboard that giant strawberry and spin till you puke!  And do it all in the name of f-u-n, FUN!"  Festival fever. It is real and it is intoxicating. 

Last year, Neil and I watched with pride as Owen found the courage to try new rides all by himself, and we grinned like idiots and waved to him from our parental post outside the tiny metal fence around each kiddie ride.  As he rode in endless circles on ride after ride, we were content to simply ride the high that only a heaping stack of onion rings and giant smoked turkey leg can provide. It was bliss.

Sure, we spent most of our life savings at the Friendship Festival that Friday evening, but then after fortifying ourselves with bucketloads of Friendship Festival Parade candy, we went back for more on Saturday afternoon. If I actually kept track of the money we spent at the fair last year, I'd probably choke on my Lemonade Shake Up, but watching Owen find the courage to tackle the little dragon roller coaster all by himself was one of those priceless moments that I'll never forget.  I'll always remember the unsolicited thank you he gave us, his proclamation that "it was the best day EVER!" and the real tears he cried when he realized that the carnival was not, in fact, a permanent fixture in in his hometown.

Despite the expense, the long lines, and the eerie feeling of being sized up by carnival folk, I will happily head back to the Friendship Festival this year.  I wouldn't miss it for all the corndogs in the world.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dad's Rules Make Dads Rule.

Dad Rule #1 - Dirty is okay. 
In fact, it is the preferred method in almost all situations.
Dad Rule # 2  - Make something new. 
In fact, if your kid likes Super Mario Brothers,
take all the old board games out of the closet,
chop them up, add some glue, and make a Mario castle. 
Dad Rule #3 - Don't be scared of anything.   
Especially storms because they are fun to watch.
 Embrace the storm,
then sit back and relax. 
Just exactly like Daddy. 
Dad Rule #4
Work hard to provide for your family.   

Dad Rule #5
Have fun and celebrate when you win big
(even if that means carrying a giant stuffed animal around
an over-priced theme park to ensure the happiness of your children). 
Happy Father's Day to all the good dads and especially to mine and to Owen's. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom'll Find It.

After a particularly long bedtime routine a few years back, I gingerly placed my calm and sleepy two-year-old in his crib only to realize that his "Boo," which was (and still is) his can't-sleep-without-it stuffed animal, was not in the crib.  After laying Owen down, I raced downstairs, ran straight to the tricycle parked in the corner of the living room, opened up its covered trunk compartment, pulled out Boo, and raced right back upstairs, all the while praying that the hard-fought bedtime routine wouldn't be catastrophically affected.  When I finally returned to the living room, my husband looked at me in awe and asked how in the hell I knew exactly where Boo was hidden.  And my reply was, "I always know where Boo is hidden."  And I still have my eye on that silly blue elephant.  Boo was Owen's first best friend and his comfort during the transition into long nights alone in his room.  Now, after three books and two stories, Boo still makes it possible for me to close Owen's bedroom door and claim an hour or two for myself every evening.  Boo is important to the health and well-being of our whole little family. 
Boo and the tattered remains
 of Strawberry Blanket
Moral of the story:  One of those "maternal instincts" that kick in once you become a mom includes instinctively knowing how to protect what's most important to your child.  I'm sure my mom kept tabs on my Strawberry Blanket, just like I keep tabs on Owen's Boo, because she understood the importance of instilling in me an understanding that, even at bedtime when I was alone in my dark bedroom, I wasn't ever really alone.  I know Owen's Boo won't always be able to provide the sort of comfort he craves in times of darkness, and as he grows I'm not sure what will replace Boo.  But I am sure that I'll do my best to figure it out.  And if I can't...Well, then I'll ask my mom. 


Monday, March 25, 2013

Cleaning Dance Party

Sometimes the weirdest things make me happy.  Take, for instance, the act of Spring cleaning.  In my life, this joyous and highly anticipated event will require meticulous preparation, and it can only occur under very specific conditions:
  1. In order to truly drive out the stench of winter and provide proper ventilation for the copious amounts of bleach that will be used, it must be warm enough for open windows. 
  2. Special care must be taken to ensure my cleaning supply arsenal is complete.  Nothing is worse than getting to Spring Cleaning Phase Five: Hardwood Floor Dust Removal only to find that I've forgotten to purchase the Swiffer pads.  Oh, the humanity! 
  3. I must be home alone.  All day.  This point is absolutely non-negotiable for the following reasons:
    1. Spring cleaning has a very specific soundtrack in the form of a self-created playlist entitled Cleaning Dance Party (No, I'm not kidding), and it must be played at maximum volume. 
    2. As the title of the playlist suggests, there will also be a dance party.  While I'm not at all ashamed of my sweet, sweet moves, the dance party is a party for ONE and that is because I do recognize the fact that the aforementioned moves may be slowly morphing from "sweet moves" into "mom moves."  I'm almost 35, so it was bound to happen sometime.   
Under these very specific conditions I will be able to transform my house into a better version of itself, and since it will again be a place that I am proud of, I might even invite you over for a visit that extends beyond the warm weather boundries of my porch.  Once inside, however, you'll probably notice a few items that seem out of place -- items that might make you think, "Wow, she really talks a big "Cleaning Dance Party" game, but it seems to me that she missed some spots..."  For instance, upon entering my dining room, you may encounter a scene that looks like this: 

"It's a booby trap, mom."
Or, perhaps you'll notice a neat line of purposefully placed toys in the middle of the floor, like this:
These sort of glitches in cleanliness and organization might make you think that I can talk the Cleaning Dance Party talk but can't walk the Cleaning Dance Party walk.  But you'd be wrong.  
The intention of the Cleaning Dance Party is to rid the house of grease, grime and dirt, but it is not designed to rid the house of its signs of life.  While in most rooms you will find sparkling surfaces and an air of spare de-clutterization, in the bathroom you'll probably find these two happy stickers hanging out just above the towel rack:
I don't really know why they are there, and I can't really explain why I clean around them.  I just do. And have for months and months. You might also find our toilet paper storage system (pictured below) a little unorthodox, but it is apparently the 4-year-old preferred method, and for some reason it makes me happy.  And, like I said before, sometimes the weirdest things make me happy. 





Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Open Letter to My Porch on June 15th, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

 Dear Porch,

Even though tonight you are under a thin covering of wintery mix, at approximately 7:30 pm on Saturday, June 15th, I hope to find you bathed in mottled sunlight and to feel your dusty, dry warmth under my bare feet.  Your floor will be littered with frisbees, bubble wands and baseball bats, and I'll be fresh from the shower, the skin on my nose stretched tight and tinted pink, my muscles sore from yard work.  Don't bother getting gussied up for our date, Porch, because I'll be wearing my most presentable pair of stretchy shorts and that one sporty t-shirt.  Remember?  It's that perfect specimen of cotton that has earned its softness from constant wardrobe rotation since 2004.  Yeah.  That one. 

When we notice that the iPod has been loaded on the dock and is playing the music that says summer, we will know we are no longer alone, Porch.  When Neil joins us, we'll notice a layer of sawdust adorning the sun-bleached hair on his work-tanned skin, and fresh grass clippings clinging to his shoes and the bottom of his jeans. He'll bring us two ice cold beers nestled in their koozies, and with the crack of the can our jaws will unclentch and our shoulders will relax.  It will cost nothing and mean everything all at the same time. 

Hope to see you then.

Much Love,