Monthly Archives: July 2009
It’s funny. When I was growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t wait to get out of the state and what I considered the blue-collared city of Battle Creek. The cereal factories, the non-descript row homes, the downtown that could hardly be considered a hub of culture and it all embodied a background that I didn’t want to be associated with.
I certainly saw myself as more of a sophisticated kind of gal – one who enjoyed the enhanced opportunities that a metropolitan city would provide. Like Dim sum on Sunday mornings in Chinatown, a downtown that boasted a skyline comparable to none, renowned universities and museums a cab ride away – the cultural diversity that Chicago could offer.
It wasn’t that I was used to these things. There were no European trips or sports cars wrapped in a red ribbon sitting in my driveway on my sixteenth birthday. My parents weren’t successful entrepreneurs or trust-fund babies, they were teachers and we lived a middle-class existence where, when you could start working, you did. We drove American made cars, ate at Red-Lobster on special occasions and vacationed in northern Michigan during the summers
When I left for Illinois, I hardly looked back. When people asked me where I was from, I laughingly said Michigan as though it were common knowledge that anyone who could get out, would. I loved my new life, even though I was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Schaumburg and driving my Saturn into the city to work. I wasn’t necessarily living the good-life, but I was awful close to people who were and that sort of thing rubs off. We all shared the unspoken knowledge that, yes, we had arrived. To where, I couldn’t tell you, but it was somewhere other than Battle Creek.
My life went through another change when I met Craig and the apartment turned into a house and the Saturn to a mini-van. It was an effortless transition into a new life, one that I had not actively sought out, but rather expected would happen and I settled in, totally comfortable in my newest role.
You can run, but you can’t hide
But, as anyone wise will say, you can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take Michigan out of the girl. It took a couple years, but I did begin to miss trees, and crickets and the stars that light pollution didn’t hide. I missed leisurely drives in the country where you lick your vanilla cone and watch the horses or the late evening farmer finish his plowing. Ice cream in the suburbs means traffic and lines and a three dollar baby cone.
I looked forward to family visits where we took long walks through the woods or on the beach or just sat on the porch with lemonade, gossiping about the latest small-town scandal. It wasn’t hard to convince Craig to vacation on Mackinac Island where walking through horse manure seems charming and fudge is the official hors d’oeuvre, served before every meal.
Even Battle Creek was different than what I remembered. It wasn’t smoke you smelled from the factories, but the sweet aroma of Frosted Flakes and Rice Crispies drifting through the city. The row houses reminded me of the days when my best friend, Tala, and I would sneak into her older sister Sherree’s bedroom to look at her Led Zeppelin album covers when she wasn’t there. I recalled riding the bus downtown to shop at Robinson’s department store and eating hand-pressed burgers and shakes at Speed’s Coffee Shop. Was my childhood far enough behind me that all things once evil had magically become nostalgic?
Returning to the scene of the crime
This weekend I’ll return again for my class reunion. It’s a bit easier as FaceBook has allowed me the opportunity to pre-connect before meeting up with the classmates from Lakeview High School Class of 1979. At one time I may have turned up my nose at the chance to see faces that may or may not have been friends, but I view things differently these days. I’ve grown up now and it doesn’t matter to me how much money you make or how big your house is. I want to hear how your brother is doing or what happened to your sister, the swimmer. I want to tell you how sad I was to hear your mother passed away and how glad I am that your dad made it through his by-pass surgery with little complication. I want to see pictures of your kids, hell, your grandkids, and hear about your life and what you’ve been doing for the past thirty years.
Sure, I’d have liked to have lost the twenty pounds that have found their way home and you betcha I have a hair appointment scheduled this week for a “touch-up” but frankly, I feel pretty comfortable with what and who I am these days. This is not a claim I make lightly or have even made much in the past, but I have lost much of the baggage that I had dragged around and I don’t feel the need to be anything other than what I am. Trust me, I still have my issues, but they’re not as life-threatening as I once thought they were.
So, this weekend should be fun. Kelly comes in on Wednesday and the kids are at camp, so we’ll have plenty of time to reminisce of days gone by and old war stories. I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of the “kids” I went to school with and remembering the few that didn’t make it to see this reunion. All in all, I’d say it ain’t so bad.
Little Max and Sam are a bit of a challenge. Now, I know boys will be boys, but our sweet angels have been known to push the envelope and our biggest challenge is to figure out which household items can be easily converted to weapons.
I’m not talking obvious – sure knives and scissors are considered dangerous by some. But it’s the every-day candle or can of soup that can throw a parent off. Did you realize that a dismantled Lego, when thrown with the right velocity and at the perfect angle, can take out a tooth? Who knew?
Who’s the Boss?
But Craig and I are responsible parents and after a long debate with Max, and to his bitter disappointment, we have decided firearms are off-limits, though the jury’s still out on explosives. I’m not saying that giving a shot-gun to an angry nine year-old with a vendetta is a bad choice, it’s just our choice.
Besides, who needs weapons when good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat can be just as effective? And the bonus is it can be done anywhere. My little guys love to fight at parties, at weddings, on the bus (a favorite), at concerts and movies – really, in just about any public venue you can think of (I think it’s the excitement of having a captive audience). Why, just the other day I broke up an all-out brawl in the meat department at Costco. And I only became involved when the manager had the nerve to ask us to leave.
The best thing about the physical abusive Max and Sam inflict on each other is the colorful language that accompanies the beatings. For an eight and nine year-old, I’ll admit that they have a fairly sophisticated vocabulary.
Though it’s kind of funny, and I don’t know how they got it mixed up, but both my boys are under the impression that the phrase is “damn-god” not the other way around (as in “I’m going to knock his damn-god head off”). How cute is that?
Now Max is my strategic planner. Even when he was two, he knew exactly when to push his just-walking one year-old brother down the steps. He picked on Sam brutally until we showed Sam how effective biting can be. That seemed to even the playing board a bit.
It’s hard to squelch Sam’s fierce determination to retaliate after an unfair business practice by his brother. I’m totally astonished at how long he can sit-in-wait for the perfect opportunity to kick Max in the groin. I have seen him hold out for days before he finds just the right moment. You have to admit it’s a virtue, that kind of patience.
Weapons training for children – are they ever too young?
Sam is considered by some, an expert in managing the staff, or spear as we sometimes refer to it. Our “Sweetie-peetie-pumpkin-pie-Sammer” (my pet name!) is becoming so adept at handling this unique weapon, I’m thinking he could be a contender for the javelin in the 2016 Olympics. Last week I found him working diligently to remove the handle base from my house broom.
“There!” he cried as he stood and began twirling. That five-foot broom handle was turning so fast it was making my head spin.
“Light the ends on fire,” he shouted.
“That seems awfully dangerous,” I yelled back through the wind tunnel. “Can’t we just tape some knives on the end?”
“I want the fire!” he screamed, tossing the stick high into the air. It landed on the roof, between the rake and Craig’s new putter.
We try not to get involved as we have been advised by the “kid whisperer” that it’s best if children learn to negotiate and solve their own problems without the aid of an adult. This strategy does tend to throw people off as it can appear that the parent is ignoring the children’s bickering. This was definitely the case last summer when my good friend, Stacie, came to visit and we took the boys to the beach.
All was going well until Max looked at Sam and smiled. Apparently it was the “ha ha” smile and Sam wasn’t having any. I paid no attention to the threats of drowning or even the slaps that turned to punches. I turned a blind eye to the handfuls of sand that blew our way and only when a rock almost hit Stacie, did I step in and advise her to move her chair.
Of course, I explained our strategy and the theory behind it.
“How’s that working out for you?” she asked, in somewhat of a snotty tone (I thought). But she doesn’t have children so she hasn’t a clue as to what she’s talking about.
Good help is hard to find
It has been difficult to hold on to sitters. There has been more than one teenager that has gone home in tears and never returned. We’re lucky that our current adult sitter, Maria, is an admitted masochist and enjoys the “suffering” the boys impose on her. Though, she was a teensy upset when they locked her in the basement for an hour when they were just three and four. Of course, now it’s a favorite story and almost always gets a laugh at social gatherings. And, Maria’s eye tick has finally disappeared so it’s a win- win for everyone.
I know what you’re thinking and believe me, I feel the same way. . . it’s pretty obvious that the boys get their temperament from my husband and his side of the family. He has admitted as much to me in our family therapy sessions. Craig grew up the oldest of three boys, all two years apart, and there was more than one wall in their house that took an undeserved punch.
But those were the days when children didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of the adults that could spank them. We don’t believe in corporal punishment (before nine in the morning), so we are forced to be much more creative. Bribing and begging almost always seem to do the trick.
What’s so funny about the death of Michael Jackson? These were the thoughts that raced through my head after receiving several requests to blog about the untimely passing of the “King of Pop”. I write irreverent and humorous stories about moi, not someone else. Not write about me? Why would I do that?
“Because he’s an icon. Because it’s so weird,” said my husband, who apparently doesn’t think I’m serious about the divorce thing. “Does everything always have to be funny? Or about you?”
Well, yeah, I thought as I accidentally threw my sandal at him. He did the George Bush duck as I called out “Sorry! Slipped!” But his words stuck with me as I sat in front of my laptop, ignoring the muffled cries for “help” coming from the other room (it’s strange, but I have an uncanny ability to tune out the boys when I’m writing).
Not a believer
I am not particularly a fan of Michael Jackson. I was raised with his music and I admit I sang along, as a child, when “Ben” was played on the radio, but I’m not a die-hard. I jumped on the “Wacko Jacko” bandwagon when it rolled through town and helped dissect him in the press when the pedophilia charges came out. I rolled my eyes when he claimed to have vitiligo, the condition that turned his skin white, and wagged my tongue when it hit the papers that he had married the just-as-odd, Lisa Marie Presley. He weirdness made him such an easy target, it was hard not to gossip about him.
I was still in shock from the announcement of another iconic passing, Farrah Fawcett, when the texts about MJ’s death started coming through. I figured it was just another media-hype, like the hyperbaric oxygen chamber he claimed to have slept in, or of his friendship with Bubbles the Chimp. When I found out it was true, I reacted the same way as when John Lennon was killed or JFK, Jr. died, I couldn’t make sense of it. It seemed too surreal – he was of my generation and too young to die.
Michael Jackson did not know me, but I knew him. I knew of his marriages, his divorces, his successes and failures. I knew his children, the Jackson family and the famous friends. I knew when he was arrested and when he went to trial. I knew his shame and embarrassment. I knew his secrets.
No matter how strange someone is, it’s still sad when they die. The running movie that was Michael Jackson’s life ended abruptly and with an unsatisfactory conclusion. Like Princess Diana, their unexpected death took me by surprise; I wasn’t prepared for the emotional jolt, the fact that we wouldn’t grow old together. What would their senior years have brought? Would Elvis ever have faded away? Would Heath Ledger’s star have continued to rise? It speaks to your own life and possible untimely death. It makes me wonder when I will die.
His life and times
When I started looking back on Michael Jackson’s life, I discovered much about him that I either didn’t know or had simply forgotten. I found out that he holds eight records in the Guinness Book of World Records, mostly for his musical achievements, but also one for his support of 39 charities, more than any other entertainer. Through his foundations, he has donated millions of dollars to the poor, the hungry, the sick. I was also reminded that, as a child, he was continually abused by his father, a claim supported not only by the senior Jackson, but by his eight brothers and sisters as well. Even as an adult he was afraid of the dark and slept with the lights on.
The issue that bothers me most is that of the pedophilia, but even then, does that mean he deserved to die? Or that somehow he got what was coming to him? I don’t know and I can’t speak for those who have experienced the agony of abuse. Does his support of so many charities somehow offset the horrific charges against him? Does what he gave outweigh what he took? Was he a sick man who let the sycophants pander to him, like Belushi or Marilyn? Somewhere along the way, he dropped the reins – was it his fault that he wasn’t in charge of his life? Maybe.
I wonder what will happen to his children. Will they be as strange as their father? How does being raised with a veil covering your face, (or a burqa for that matter) shape your life? Will genetics or fate step in and save them from circumstance or is it too late? Will they forever be known as “the children of Michael Jackson” or can they ever break away and make their own future?
Money and happiness, not always compatible
For all the fame and fortune that Michael had, it seems his personal demons nestled in and never left him. They didn’t care who he was, but he was good eatin’ and they made a meal. We’re all familiar with demons and how they operate – ignore ‘em and they grow. Soon they’re giving advice and before long they’re running the show. Over time and with proper nourishment, some demons get so big that there’s no fighting them, they’re too powerful. Their hold is strong – all they have to do is remind you of your insecurities and how you’re not fooling anyone. Then it’s over.
I have so many mixed thoughts and questions about the life and death of Michael Jackson. Whether you like him or not, it’s hard to dispute the fact that he was an icon, that five decades of his music will influence generations to come, and that his personal story will be forever clouded with doubt and shame. He lived a life that was so bizarre, I can’t even imagine it.
No one likes to speak ill of the dead. We search for the nice things so say in a eulogy, the person’s strengths, what a good cook they were or what a green thumb they had. Their peccadilloes are brushed over or not mentioned at all. Even in death-row inmates, we elaborate on how they found God or of the fine rehab work they have done with other inmates. The nasty and the mean must have something positive that can be said about them. Right?
I am not fond of quoting from scripture but the passage “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” comes to mind. How quickly would we forgive the wrongdoings of a Dick Cheney or a Bill Clinton if they were to pass away? Does someone have to die before they can truly be absolved of their sins?
I can hear your quick reply “of course not” but I’m not so sure it is a question that is easily answered. Do we ever forgive the truly heinous (Hitler)? The horrible (OJ)? The despicable (Bernie Madoff)? Where do you draw the line? Or do you turn that decision over to a higher power?
You tell me.