Friends and Enemies
I don’t usually like to brag, but there are some things I do, and I do well. The first that comes to mind is yodeling naked in the shower, a close second is starting a land war in Asia, and the third is birthing babies. I don’t kid myself that I can compete with Octomom, or Kate, but four times is nothing to shake a stick at. I’ve done it alone, in front of an audience, twice with no drugs, and once as I was arguing with my mother . . . on the phone.
As a matter of fact, my reputation was such that my presence was requested by my good-friend (let’s call her Lisa Schmagenbuch), at the birth of her first child. She knew that I had expertly handled all of my own birthing events and was impressed with how effortlessly I had sailed through my personal sea of pain. Of course, I agreed. And frankly, being a role model comes as second nature to me.
But, it’s no secret that the bigger they are the harder they fall. This is the story of my tumble from grace and the valuable lessons learned as I plummeted from heights of greatness to the humbleness of defeat. It’s not easy to show weakness and vulnerability, but know this – I share this story with you for one reason only, and that is – it is a required step in a particular “class” I am associated with.
Looking for Lisa
Lisa Schmagenbuck was clinging tightly to the hope that a certain aging rock star would marry her. But, besides a few brief stalking episodes, they had never met and we all thought Lisa would become an old-maid waiting for him. Then she was introduced to “Dave” and we were all thrilled when he asked her out. He was not a rock star, but he was successful, handsome, intelligent, and it didn’t bother him in the least that Lisa practiced witchcraft as a hobby. I’m sorry, not witchcraft – astrology (I always get the two mixed up).
Within the year, Lisa broke up with the rock star she had never met and accepted Dave’s request for her hand in marriage. They had a fairy-tale engagement, marriage, yada yada, and a year later Dave and Lisa found themselves staring at a cross on a urine soaked stick.
Lisa has always looked up to me and since becoming a wife and now an expectant mother, she relied on me more than ever. I couldn’t go five minutes without her calling, wondering whether she should have a bagel or toast for breakfast. Now, we all know that a bagel in the first trimester is a given, but these are the kinds of things that Lisa was clueless about. Please don’t blame her. It wasn’t her fault – she was the youngest of four and had been waited on and babied her whole life. Once again, I think this is another example where we can point the finger at the parents.
It was apparent she was headed for trouble when, during one training session I held, she put my infant son’s diaper on backward and inside out. Then there was the time she made a tuna-noodle casserole and forgot the peas! Her washcloths were always folded incorrectly and don’t get me started on her silverware drawer. Dave appeared unscathed by these “issues”, but I knew the hard, cold slap of reality would be a painful one for my dear friend, and I vowed to be there to witness it when it happened. I just didn’t know that I would learn something in the process.
You don’t know what you don’t know
When Lisa asked me to be in the delivery room with her and Dave, I knew at once that it was a duty that I would have to perform. Besides my own experience, I had actually never see a live birth, but judging from my successes, I felt confident I could assist. We talked at length of the things she would need in the delivery room: lipstick for pictures, refreshments for the hospital staff, “Footloose” on DVD, flattering birthing wear and of course, a CD mix of her favorite tunes.
For a brief time, Lisa seemed preoccupied with the Lamaze Method. It took a few weeks, but I explained to my inexperienced friend, over and over, that breathing came naturally – she didn’t need to pay someone to help her do it, and besides, I wasn’t sure how legit the whole methodology was. Sometimes these “necessary” classes are scams. I can say this with confidence as I had taken the class three times and I didn’t remember it doing much more than relaxing me when the pain became the greatest.
We discussed our birthing plan in great detail. The brownies were in the freezer – ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice and Lisa had chosen a couple flattering shades of lip stick. We went with basic black for the birthing wear but were still up in the air on whether or not to include her former flame’s songs on her CD mix. Other than that, the stage was set.
I sometimes say “Hindsight is 50/50 – could have gone either way”. Looking back, this was definitely the case. We could have sailed through Lisa and Dave’s birthing debut, but it didn’t happen that way. Like most disasters, you either blame someone else or wonder “what if?” “What if” I hadn’t lost my temper? “What if” the brownies had gone over better? “What if” the whole epidural debacle was just a dream? Could I have done something differently? You betcha! But what?
To be continued . . .
I may have mentioned I am not a fan of balls (footballs, baseballs, etc.) but I am a fan of my children. At least that’s what I tell people.
Because I raised my two older kids as a single parent, I got away with whispering in their ear that team sports were only for the “weird” kids. And there was no one to tell them otherwise. Not so this time around. Max and Sam have kicked and thrown and run their way from the hospital, in which they were born, all the way to this year’s basketball league champions of the Inverness Park District. All with the overwhelming support of their father.
This is what I get for thinking
I originally thought the basketball thing would be a good idea because the boys would be gone for practices and games. The added bonus was that as their coach, Craig would too. Now, if I give you the impression that I don’t care to spend quality sports time with my family, then I have hit the mark. It’s true. After 28 years of raising kids and another 11 to go, I value the little privacy I have. If I can steal an hour or two to catch up on Rock of Love Bus Tour (with Brett Michaels – no less), I unabashedly take it.
Our community is fairly small so most of the kids on our “Turquoise” basketball team were either classmates or friends, and Roger and Jay, the other two coaches, are neighbors. But, what started out as a friendly instructional league, (think wiping away tears and kissing boo boo’s) turned into an all out gladiator battle complete with a fight to the death. Worse, I wholeheartedly admit that I became part of the mob scene rooting for the lion to tear the limbs from the nine-year old boys on the opposing “Fuchsia” team.
2-4-6-8 Shout! Chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out!
This is somewhat surprising as I usually could give a rat’s fig as to who wins any game. But I think I smelled blood and this stirred some primal instinct, hidden under layers of latte’s and biscotti, that rose to the surface and spurred me on to places I’ve only imagined.
This didn’t happen overnight. During most of the season, I held court with Sue and Liz in the coveted “coaches wives” section, not paying a whole lot of attention. We shouted out the obligatory “atta boy” every now but spent most of the time catching up on the latest gossip. But as the season progressed and the “turquoise” team rose in the ranks, we couldn’t help but be drawn into the web of excitement that surrounded our athletically gifted young boys.
We ran with the exhilaration that our husbands emoted. During the week, emails flew back and forth between the coaches, twenty, thirty, forty, a day, discussing the various pros and cons of the “picks” the boys could set (I have since learned that “pick” is a fancy name for a rehearsed “play”) . To throw off the other team, Jay and Roger cleverly decide to name the picks after animals and more than twice, I would hear Craig saying something like “Let’s do the Capuchin monkey after the Bengal tiger. I really like the monkey.” They would meet at the local watering hole to discuss in-depth, the strengths of the various third-graders who could best execute the orangutan or the snow leopard.
You don’t win the silver, you lose the gold!
Their hard work paid off and the boys finished in second place. But hold on to your hats gang – the best is yet to come. And that would be the playoffs. I am usually morally opposed to any playoffs because I hate them, but not this time. I found myself grilling my exhausted boys at bedtime, pushing them to recite the moluccan cockatoo parrot pick just one more time.
The day of the big game was cold but sunny. Anxiety hung in the air and I found myself snapping at Craig and the boys for no reason other than the joy I felt at their discomfort. The nervous energy exuded from my pores and I cleaned the refrigerator in record time while the cookies baked in the oven. I realized, in my own special way, I was putting on my game face.
I knew we had a good chance at winning the semi-final game, but it was the championship against the dreaded “Taupe” team that had me eating Oreos two at a time. They were good, but it was their coach that really burned my basket balls. All the parents disliked the loud obnoxious dad that had the nerve to scout the other teams, which by the way, is clearly against the rules. When Roger and Craig and Jay went to see teams with none of their sons on them, it was always out of pure love for the game.
Get in there and win, damnit!
The boys easily won their first game due to the fact that the other team’s best player was in the parking lot, vomiting. Liz, Sue and I expressed our sympathies to our friends from the other team whose sons just couldn’t keep up without their star, but silently and gleefully jumped for joy at the good fortune that had fallen our way.
The championship game was a close one. The lead went back and forth but at half-time we found ourselves down by eight points – unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination. Liz and I decided that this wouldn’t be the case if we were coaching and we criticized our husband’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks correctly. Meanwhile, Roger and Sue were on the sidelines engaged in a heated discussion and when she returned to the stands she commented that there was going to be hell to pay that night. Things were not going well.
The second half was a nail biter – I literally chewed off two of my acrylics while our boys amazingly made the four baskets needed to tie the game. The din of the cheering parents grew increasing louder as the tension sky-rocketed and I barely managed to utter a few words of advice to the ref before he looked at me, put his finger to his mouth and pointed to the door. But we were not to be deterred and I firmly believe that it was our incessant screaming that drove the boys to victory that cold spring day.
Pain is only temporary, but victory is forever
Then there were the parties, the ice cream, the trophies, and the trip to the emergency room for Sue and Roger. Apparently their son had broken a bone in his foot, but like any gladiator worth his salt – he carried on. My husband repeated every play of the game to anyone who glanced in his general direction and after hearing it myself four times, I reminded him I was there.
We still cherish the memories but I’m back to generally despising balls and any game in which they are used. Until next year’s championship. Then I’m in for the kill.
My first impression of Rosemary Russell was that of a sweet grand-motherly type. She was a bespectacled, rotund lady with an engaging smile and tight curly gray hair. I later found out that it was a wig – the result of numerous chemo treatments, but at the time, she was just my new friend, Kelly’s, mom.
Kelly had offered me a ride home from school one day in ninth grade. When her parent’s car pulled up and I saw Rosemary, my initial thought was that she was Kelly’s grandmother – she was that much older than most of the mom’s I knew – certainly mine. But Kelly had been born when her mother was almost forty-three, ancient at that time, and had an older sister, Char, who was fifteen years her senior.
I was even more astonished when Kelly opened the driver’s door and told her mother to “move your sweet ass over so I can drive.” I waited in shock for Rosemary to morph into a gargoyle and swallow Kelly’s head, but she just smiled good-naturedly and slid over. As we cruised to my house, I listened in amazement as mother and daughter carried on a less than g-rated conversation, fraught with just about every four-letter word I had ever heard. Apparently, swearing was not an issue in the Russell household.
I am not a prude. I enjoy profanity as much as the next gal, but I was much more selective in choosing my audience. Hell, when I was eight, we even had a “swear swing,” that required the user, as they pumped to the highest heights, to change the words of popular tunes to reflect every four-letter word they knew (A few that spring to mind – “Raindrops Keep #&^*ing up My Head” and “Bridge Over *$#& ed up Water”).
But my parents were never big on “potty mouths” and swearing was frowned upon in our household, more as a rule of etiquette rather than a decree of morality. And it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I had the courage, as I was driving away in my VW Beetle, to yell out the window, “F$%# off!” to my angry parents.
What did bother Rosemary were drugs and alcohol. She was fervently opposed to any contraband and her rule was that none was to be allowed in her house. Now, I will vehemently deny that Kelly and I were involved in any alcohol or illegal substance activity, but I will give up the fact that my boyfriend, Dan was. He was a pot-smoker, and one night he left his pot pipe in the cushions of the couch after an all night party at Kelly’s that many of our friends had attended.
Kelly and I were working furiously to get the spilled candle wax out of the rug (place newspaper over the mess and use a hot iron on the paper – soaks the wax right up), when Dan knocked on the door. Rosemary, an RN, had just returned home from the night-shift at the hospital, and was relaxing on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey as she watched me and Kelly iron the carpet.
I knew what Dan had come for. The pipe was his favorite piece of paraphernalia and he wanted it back. The trick would be working around Rosemary’s imposing figure.
“Good Sunday morning, Dan. How’s your mother?” Rosemary smiled sweetly as she took a sip from her cup.
“Uh, she’s fine.” I could feel Dan’s eyes on me as he looked for support, but I kept my head down and focused on a particularly stubborn hunk of wax.
“You’re up early. Here to help with the carpet cleaning?”
“Um, no, but um, I think I left my . . . wallet, yeah, my wallet, here last night. Did anyone find it?” Again I felt Dan’s eye’s on my back. Again, I ignored him.
“Feel free to look around,” Rosemary offered. “What does it look like?”
“You know – just normal. Black I think.” Dan began to crawl around the room on his hands and knees peering under the sofa and behind the plant.
“Where do you think you left it?”
“I guess it could be anywhere,” Dan continued, as he lifted a pillow from a chair.
“Could it be in the sofa?” Rosemary said. “Could this be it!”
She dramatically reached in the folds of her nightgown and pulled out the pipe then triumphantly thrust it into the air. “Is this what you’re looking for? Is this your wallet, Dan?” She glared at him over her silver cat-eyes.
By this time, Kelly and I had sat back on our heels, absorbed in the cat and mouse game playing out in front of us.
He looked at me but I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t about to get involved in this situation that would most certainly entail a protracted discussion on the evils of marijuana. He was on his own.
At that point, Dan must have decided that the best defense was a good offense. “That’s mine, Rosemary,” he said in the bravest voice he could muster.
“Not anymore, mister. You know how I feel about doing the pot. You broke my rules. It’s now my marijuana … smoking … thing …” She tucked the pipe in her ample bosom.
“But, Rosemary,” Dan protested. “That cost ten dollars. It’s my best pipe – I got it in Mexico.”
“I know dear. I’m sorry.” But she didn’t look sorry.
She waited patiently for a moment before Dan lost the stare down, then she closed the deal. “Dan, will you please give your mother my regards when you go home?”
Dan got the hint and left, mumbling under his breath, knowing that not only had he lost his best pipe, but that Rosemary had gotten the best of him.
“You girls need to finish up,” she said cheerily as she drained the last of her tea. “We need to have another little chat about the rules.”
We groaned, but knew we were getting off easily. There was so much more that she didn’t know. If she did, a lecture wouldn’t be the punishment.
After a drawn out fight, Rosemary Russell lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away when I was twenty-three. She always wanted us to remember the happy circumstances of her life, rather than the sad ones of her death. This is a Rosemary story that always cracks me up.