Today I feel like complaining. You might be wondering how this day is any different and, actually . . . it’s not. Even my complaint is recycled, but it’s a fan favorite and one that never grows old. At least for me.
Before I get started, I must preface my grievance with a simple statement that, in fact, I like one of the two subjects I am about to criticize. You might even go so far as to say I love my husband – he is an extremely affable chap. The other, *sports, is a horse of a different Cinderella story. Maybe it’s because I live with three males and grew up as a coach’s daughter, but I find my tolerance level for locker room talk has waned. *The term “sports” includes, but is not limited to: sport’s teams, sporting events, sporting arenas, players of sports, commentators of sports, spectators of sports, TV and radio shows regarding the aforementioned, etc.
When I put sports and my husband, Craig, together, I get a headache a mile long. We have left weddings early (our own) in order to watch a basketball playoff game. I labored my third birth in front of a hospital TV watching a baseball game (for kicks, I just asked my husband what game: Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, October 14, 1999 – Sox lost). He has a photographic memory when it comes to stats and for some reason he thinks I am as interested in how many touchdown passes that Peyton Manning threw in a single NFL season as he is. I’m not. (55 BTW)
His bucket-list is comprised solely of having “his” Cleveland team win some big title, playoff games he wants to attend, players he would like to shoot a round of golf with and historical plays, that if granted the power, he would change. When I once questioned him about a 1985 boxing match he was re-watching on ESPN Classic, mentioning that he already knew the outcome, he replied proudly, “Even better, I was there.”
When I first met Craig and declared that I didn’t watch much TV, he claimed the same. It wasn’t until our first holiday together when I received a new color TV and cable, that I found this not to be the case. He fessed up and shared that there had been more than one Sunday when his day started at 7:30 am and lasted until midnight watching pre, post and who-gives-a-rat’s foot, ball related programs.
Even though I am not a big fan of any game (though I play a mean game of PIG), I know how much these games mean to my husband. And now, how much they mean to me – the biggest bonus of having two boys with a fanatic is (say it with me, ladies) my free time. This year’s birthday gift to Craig was a weekend in front of the TV watching football playoffs. Between lunching with girlfriends, shopping with my daughter and a bedroom TV all to myself, it was his best birthday ever,
Some say I married my father, a star athlete in high school, college and even the minor leagues, who, at 77, still ref’s high school basketball. There is no sport he is not proficient at and excels at most – from golf to tennis and everything in between. But more importantly, he set an example of being a good-sport to his children, as well as the many young athletes he picked up and dusted off along the way.
I will admit to enjoying a great ball game every now and then – that kind of excitement invokes the nostalgia from a time long-gone. As a child, I remember falling asleep to the unmistakable radio voice of the Detroit Tigers, Ernie Harwell, as he called the game. And from my dad, as he coached the Tigers in the dark, from our living room couch.
Having a baby around the holidays – what was I thinking? Obviously, I wasn’t. Either with the planning or the execution, but there’s no walking that cat backwards. I’m stuck with a late December kid. On top of that, I have a husband with an early January birthday.
It’s not hard to hear that collective groan – I realize I’m not alone. Because I’m good at math, I know that approximately 1/12 of the population has a birthday that falls somewhere near Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s Eve or one of the other 28 “winter festivals” (seriously – check Wikipedia). Everyone knows someone who has a holiday birthday.
But like many of you resourceful folks, I have a found a few ways around the extra work these birthdays bring. Thoughts to share:
January birthdays are a great way to recycle unwanted holiday gifts. Don’t care much for the moose-shaped oven mitt from your crazy sister-in-law? Fill it with candy and give it to your kid. How about that dashboard Jesus that was all-the-rage a couple years ago? Pass it on to your pastor/priest/rabbi as a reminder that someone else had a birthday at Christmastime.
Work the “combo gift” angle. Get the 8-pack of batteries and tell your daughter you upgraded from the 4-pack and it’s for both her birthday and Christmas. Same idea for your mother, buy the broom and dustpan – killing two turtle doves with one stone.
Old holiday cards work great for new birthday cards. Just scratch out the “Peace” before . . . on Earth and replace it with “You are.”
If worse comes to worser, you can always claim that, in the midst of the holiday craze, you simply forgot the birthday and will celebrate in the near future when things settle down and you can catch your breath. Usually the birthday girl/guy feels guilty accepting a promise from such a busy person. Besides, it seems rude to remind someone they owe you a gift.
Now, I must mention in the vein of fairness and because my husband can be a crybaby, that there is another option. You could possibly go out of your way to make the holiday/birthday person feel special. Don’t re-gift. Don’t use holiday paper instead of birthday paper. Spend the extra $3.00 for a birthday card and make a concerted effort to make the day about the birthday and not the holiday. This does take some time and planning but as someone very close to me reminded me in a whiny voice, these are the people you love.
As with many decisions, it’s not always clear what the right choice is. If you’re not sure how to handle this somewhat delicate issue, I feel it’s perfectly acceptable to flip a coin or roll the dice. And if push comes to shove, you can always say Merry Birthday and call it a day.
Lise Marinelli – author of Merry Birthday (Windy City Publishers, 2013)
I’ve been accused of many things in my life. Like not knowing (what I consider) my ”asset” from a hole in the ground. Or being a pain in the asset. Or having my head stuck up in that same asset. But one thing I have never been accused of having is a small asset.
I come from a long line of “healthy” women and men. Not particularly large – just . . . healthy. We enjoy growing food, cooking food and eating food. There are a few select deviants, but generally speaking, the members in my family are of a sturdy pioneer stock, ready to march across a mountain if a good meal is involved.
I didn’t see this coming
As luck would have it, one of the deviants happens to be a direct descendant of mine, my 10-year old son, Sam. He started out as one of us – he was a healthy 7 ½ pounds at birth and, at six-months he tipped the scales at 25 lbs. But by his 2nd birthday, I could see that he was unusual, that he wasn’t progressing in the “normal way.” I, like many parents who sense a peculiarity in their child’s behaviors, was afraid to admit my baby was different.
For example, Sam had an odd habit of putting his fork down when he was full. I have witnessed this behavior in others, but never in one so close to me. No matter how much I tempted him with extra helpings, he seemed content with a reasonable portion. More times than not, Sam was persona non grata in the “clean plate club.”
Another red flag – Sam ate his meat and vegetables first. Often times, the breads and the potatoes were left on the plate with Sam’s complaints that he was “too full to finish.” Not only were they left on the plate, but there were actually times when Sam asked for a second helping of meat before he finished his au grats or garlic bread.
In addition, Sam has a lot of energy. He can jump high, run fast and is one of those kids who can vault himself into a convertible with little or no effort. Lately, he has taken to working out and is convinced that I need to do the same. He came into my room last night as I was engrossed in The Biggest Loser and asked if he could speak to me about something serious.
“Of course, honey,” I said. I set my bowl of ice cream down, put the TV on mute and sat up. I do feel it’s important to give the impression that you are listening to your child.
“I thought it would be good if you started an exercise program.” Sam coughed nervously and produced a clip board from behind his back. “I wrote down some things like sit ups and leg lifts that you can do and I can help you.”
Sam, with his little washboard tummy, looked so cute standing there that I just wanted to eat him up. “That is so sweet, Sam. I would love to work out with you.” I glanced at my program on the tube – they were nearing the weigh-in. “Can we start in the morning?”
“Sure, how about 8:00?”
“I’ll be ready, I promise,” I replied as I turned the volume back up. “Now be a good boy and go get mommy a soda to wash down her ice cream?”
As he was leaving, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have such a thoughtful child. I felt differently though when at 8:00 the next morning, as I was reading the paper and enjoying a carmel latte and double-chocolate biscotti, he showed up with that ridiculous clip board.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Are you serious?” I replied.
“You said you would. I have a whole program for you, 1000 sit-ups, 500 push-ups and some basic cardio.” He looked pretty determined. “You promised.”
“But, I didn’t pinky promise,” I countered. This was a sure fire way to get out of the standard promise contract.
Sam looked so disappointed that a tinge of guilt set in and I began to reevaluate my pinky promise response. Would it really kill me to do 1000 sit-ups? After all, he was making the effort, the least I could do was try, right? I knew Dr. Phil would think it was the right thing to do.
No pain, no gain
So, I did and we made it thru 82 sit-ups and 19 girl push-ups – not so bad for the first day. He made me sign-off on the workout and we agreed (not promised) to implement a workout program in the near future. My schedule has been such that I have not had the opportunity to start the plan, but I can honestly say that it is on my list of things to do.
The whole Sam thing, with the eating and the exercise, did come to a head and I know there comes a time when a parent is forced to face facts and confront the situation. Inevitably, this leads to discussions between husband and wife and inevitably, secrets come out.
It was during one of these sessions that Craig, my husband, admitted to me that he too had been a thin child with a lot of energy. Nothing could have surprised me more. I had always assumed he was like me and my family as I have seen him eat a large deep-dish pizza in a matter of minutes and then work his way through a super-sized tin-roof sundae with never so much as a stomach ache or chronic diarrhea.
The good news is that we have worked through our issues. We have accepted Sam for who he is and I have forgiven my husband for his deception and all in all, we are on the path to recovery. We just need to remember to stop along the way to enjoy a little chocolate now and then.
I’m on vacation (again!). This is a posting of one of my favorite blogs.
My maternal grandfather was a thief. And he was proud of it. He boasted, to anyone would listen, of all that he had pilfered from the navy during World War II.
After his death, we found a large sextant still in its original packaging, a silver sugar and creamer set from the Officer’s Club, a pair of binoculars, and a life raft from a ship that he wasn’t even on. He had no compunction of stealing the paper from his neighbor and it was not unusual for my grandmother to have to supply a new one to the angry fellow next door.
Although he married my grandmother, a well-to-do only child, he was extremely tightfisted and shopped at the local Salvation Army, stuffing all he could into a brown bag for 25 cents. I remember as a child, him offering to spring for my own 25 cent shopping bag, and how excited I was to pick out whatever I wanted.
He had closets of old clothes, none of which really fit but he knew exactly what was there. He didn’t mind stealing, but he was extremely angry if he thought anyone was stealing from him. We were always were grilled as we left the house after a visit, sometimes even emptying out our pockets to prove we were “clean.”
“the Old Man”
Anyone who knew him called him “the Old Man,” and he had a reputation of being belligerent, cunning and lithe. At eighty-five years of age, we witnessed him riding across the yard on a unicycle. When he was a mere eighty, he set himself up a small sled he had made from a bucket on a skateboard and took it down their steep driveway. To this day, my husband tells the story of “the Old Man” jumping up on a counter to change a ceiling light bulb with more dexterity than a twelve-year old. He had the nimble physique of a monkey and I can only imagine what he was like as a young man.
He held grudges, even with children, as though there was a secret covenant to try to trick him or put one over on him. He once accused my, then, fourteen year-old son of stealing a moth-eaten fedora from him and until the day he died he referred to Marcus as sneaky. If he took a dislike to you, he had neither the manners nor the inclination to hide his feelings.
He treated his only daughter terribly and told her to her face that he wished she had been born a boy. He took to calling her “Myque” (Mike), a nickname that stuck, and it wasn’t until I was a teen, I realized my mother’s name was really Claudia.
He was a devout atheist and a staunch democrat and considered anyone who dared to disagree with him an idiot. He also had an eye for a pretty girl and there was more than once that I heard my grandmother complaining of his many girlfriends that would phone the house. And he always took the call.
Frank and beans, anyone?
The first time my husband met “the Old Man” was during a holiday dinner at my mothers. My grandfather showed up in the middle of winter in loose nylon running shorts from the seventies (the really short kind), penny loafers, and a tattered sleeveless gray wool vest. He pulled a bar stool up to the table and sat higher than the rest of us, leaning over to eat. He chose not to wear underwear that day and shared his own pride and joy with anyone who had the courage to look.
He startled everyone by announcing in a loud angry voice “Who the hell took my goddamned fork?” He repeated it again until someone offered to get him a new one. Needless to say, my husband was speechless and I had to assure him that the family secret was that I was adopted.
He was a very odd man and I didn’t like him very much – he scared me. He died when he was eight-nine, his skin stretched so thin you could see the numerous tumors that filled his stomach. My grandfather dictated that he wanted to be cremated and requested no funeral or memorial service. So there was no closure in any way, for anyone. He just disappeared.
Bunghole is not a bad word. But, like many of you, I have overused the saying, “Get the bunghole outta here!” in a clever attempt at crudeness. However, as any 17th century seaman will tell you, a bung is a tube-like cork that is used to plug a hole in a barrel. And that’s where the word ‘bunghole’ originated. How it morphed into the present connotation of a dirty word is anyone’s guess.
This is but one of the many fascinating facts that our family learned on our recent vacation to the east coast. Because I have been deluged by requests (stop the madness, folks!) to share our pictures and every detail of our trip, I will humbly indulge – within reason. Because of space and time restraints, I can only give you this blog – the good news is you can order a copy of the extended super huge scrap book and CD I will soon be selling on Amazon.com. I’m also setting up a website.
So, buckle up gang as we revisit our family’s trail to the east coast and maybe, just maybe, learn a little something along the way,
Top ten things I did not know:
1. Niagara Falls sucks. Not the actual Falls, they are incredibly beautiful and to see them first-hand is breath-taking, but past that, the city (on the Canadian-side) is what I call “a cluster-fart,” (or something siniliar).
Think Disney plus Great America plus Las Vegas, on steroids, times a million, with a bad caffeine buzz and a cocaine problem. I have never been on a street with three Ripley’s Believe It or Nots, four dinosaur rides, ten ice cream shops, eight Starbucks, a couple of vertical roller-coasters and a hookah bar. Top that with a gazillion whiney kids, a loud motorcycle gang, cash-strapped parents and a ninety degree day and you have yourself a good old-fashioned cluster-fart.
2. That a ball of Silly Putty, when thrown from the back seat on a minivan at a high rate of speed and gets stuck in your hair, is nearly impossible to get out.
3. It is possible though, while driving and trying to follow a GPS in a foreign country, to reach behind the seat and punish a disobedient child.
4. Not all of the witches in the Salem, Mass trials were hanged. One gentleman, who refused to enter a guilty plea of having a pact with the devil, was pressed to death by large stones, added intermittently as he lay on the ground. Folklore has it that, as he struggled for breath and the local sheriff stood over him demanding that he admit to the crime, he would repeat, “I will not, sir. Add another stone.” He was eighty-one.
5. The “Ivy League” of east coast universities is not named for the green ivy covering the dated buildings in this elite group of schools. It actually began as the “IV League” of four colleges (Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth and Yale) and the “IV” comes from the Latin number four. Use this fact to stump your fancy Ivy League friends – it will make you feel smarter than them as I guarantee they will not know this fact.
6. There is no such thing as a hotel room with reasonable rates for a family of four. Either you get two double beds or pay up for a deluxe suite which gets you a queen and a pull-out sofa. Maybe some of you have children that can sleep next to each other without biting or kicking (liars!) but this is a very tight situation for most of us. I don’t need a mini kitchen with a stove, or even a couch. I need a king and two twin-sized beds! Hello? Hilton?
7. The expression “learning the ropes” comes from the sailors of the sixteenth century. When ships took on ten- and twelve-year old boys as apprentices, the first thing the kids had to do was learn where the five-hundred or so ropes, associated with the different sails on the ship, went. I wonder in four hundred years if there will be a new expression, “learning the iphone?”
8. Inmates in east coast prisons staged a revolt protesting the all-too-frequent meal of the “sea rat,” a creature of great abundance at that time. To this day, there stands a law in Maine that prisoners cannot be fed the sea rat, or as we know it, the lobster, more than twice a week.
9. Climbing the 300 steps in the Bunker Hill Monument after walking four miles to get there, was not as much fun as I thought it would be. Maybe it was the completely vertical steps with no ventilation? Or the tight, dark, dank staircase? I don’t know, but the kids did enjoy it. I passed them on step fifty – I was going up as they were already on their way down.
10. It’s like so, so great to spend all that time, in a minivan and small hotel rooms with your family. I mean really really great. The language, as well as the bodily function element, of pre-teen boys is not only charming but refreshing and pleasant while driving through the miles and miles and miles of desolate northern Pennsylvania.
I’m not one to honey-coat everything, so I will admit, towards the end of the trip and as we headed to stay the last night at my in-laws in Cleveland, I got a tiny bit grumpy. But I did what anyone would do in my situation: I locked myself in an upstairs bedroom with a bottle of wine and let the boys and Craig sleep in the basement.
Attitude adjustment successful.
The following is a true story. And the kind of incident that occurs frequently enough so as to prompt my sister, Becky, to say, “Why do those kinds of things always happen to you?” I’m not sure, but as a writer, I’ve been blessed with a fate that has been sprinkled with unusual and tempered with bizarre. I’m also lucky to be alive (as I’ve been told).
So I’m on my way to visit my mother and Pete in northern Michigan, my boys buckled in the minivan and deeply engrossed in a highly educational DVD. I was bored. We were in no-man’s land – my cell couldn’t get any reception, the boys weren’t fighting and even the satellite radio keep going in and out.
I became obsessed with mastering the cruise control. Keep in mind that in the ten years we have owned a Honda, I had never used this feature, located right in front of me on the steering wheel. But as you may have guessed, I am also blessed with the ability to multi-task. So, not only was I driving a 3000 lb vehicle at 70 mph with my young children and a dog in the back, I was also trying to figure out the mystery of the confusing cruise control.
It was NOT my fault, I repeat, NOT my fault
Here is my disclaimer: Even if I had seen the bale of straw sitting in the middle of the road at the crest of a small hill, it would have been too late to do anything. I hit the bale bomb with a resounding “thud”, and though it’s half the size of a bale of hay, it still packed quite a punch. The car shuddered, the boys threw off their head sets and began screaming, the dog started barking and thick smoke obscured all the windows except the windshield.
So you completely understand the decision I made, I will outline the facts.
1. I was in shock! This is important to keep in mind.
2. We were in the middle of nowhere.
3. My phone didn’t work.
I couldn’t figure out the smoke thing. My car was still running and I didn’t detect any funny sounds, but the heavy dark smoke had enveloped us. I could hear other cars honking (as if I were unaware!), but I was afraid if I pulled over, I would be stuck. I thought I should try to make the Big Rapids exit, two miles up the road.
Suddenly, as I neared the exit, the smoke instantly disappeared. I looked out my rear view mirror and saw a small fireball rolling back down the highway. It came to rest at the side of the road where it promptly burst into a large fireball.
This is where I had my ah hah moment. I had been dragging the bale of straw under my car and the friction had caused it to ignite (the smoke!) and when it burned down enough, I had shaken it loose. I was instantly relieved that we weren’t dead, but I was still visibly upset and I needed to see what kind of damage I had inflicted on my beloved minivan. I pulled off at the intended exit and headed for the only gas station, a mile down the road.
Rule of thumb – Know your Audience
I got out to inspect my beat-up car and immediately started recounting my situation to the large tattooed fellow on the Harley Davidson, getting gas next to me. Remember, I was still in shock. As I was explaining my story, I noticed a smell, a funny smell, one that I recognized from back in the day – the guy reeked of marijuana!
It was just my luck that the biker dude was stoned to the beejezus! The whole area was filled with the stench of pot but I had already engaged him and I didn’t want to appear rude or insult the dope-fiend, so I finished my story.
“Well, that explains it,” he drawled.
“What?” I asked.
“Why you smell like Cheech and Chong.” He nodded towards the van where my two boys’ faces were pressed against the window.
“Me? What do you mean?” I turned around and smoke was still pouring out from every crevice of my van. Smoldering pieces of straw stuck out from the door jams, the windows and even the gas cap. It then came to my attention that the smell of burning straw smells suspiciously like you-know-what. He wasn’t the pot-head - I was!
“I’m a responsible mother! I only did that once,” I gulped, “back in college.”
“I bet you didn’t inhale, either,” he chuckled.
Just then, a small group of fire trucks and police vehicles, their sirens blaring, passed the station, racing out towards the highway.
“Looks like you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” The biker/comedian pulled his helmet on. “Good luck,” he said sincerely as he roared off.
The Walk of Shame
I slowly walked in to the gas station and announced to the two gals listening to the police radio that I thought I might be the one who started the brush fire out by the highway. They looked at each other as if they had never started a fire and handed me the phone.
Later, as the police were taking my report, the officer mentioned, more than once, just how lucky we were to be alive.
“You know,” he said as he took my registration, “those gas tanks are made outta plastic. If you’da pulled over with the bale still stuck, the car probably woulda exploded. You’re lucky you hit it straight on,” he added, “most folks would have jerked the steering wheel one way or another, coulda hit a car or veered off the road.”
So, it was a good thing that I didn’t do as common sense would have dictated. By not seeing the straw bale in time and not pulling over immediately, I may have inadvertently done something right. . . by following some crazy, shock induced logic; I may have saved my family from, well, something not good.
“I could have been planning three funerals right now,” my mother commented when we arrived safely in Frankfort. “Four, if you count the dog . . . and this is a busy weekend.”
I do hate to put people out.
There’s an obvious problem with idle threats and that is – they don’t work. The threatenee (Craig) soon realizes you’re spitting in the wind and the threatenor (me) just gets increasingly frustrated. Yes, I’m talking about the “divorce” threat and it has long lost its ability to shock and awe.
“If you don’t take out the garbage you can look for a letter from my attorney,” I have been known to say.
“I am your attorney,” Craig has been known to answer. Boom! Not a threat.
Or, I could mention that if he doesn’t clean up the garage, run a bubble bath for me or pick up the pile of dog poop in the yard, he might find me heading out the door to singlehood.
“Don’t forget the kids,” he’d call out, “and take that crazy dog, too.” Snap! Not a threat.
I can hear many of you armchair psychologists calling plays from the bench. “If you have to threaten you have bigger fish to fry than the garbage” could be one of them. Well, don’t think for one minute you have me fooled. Anyone who says they haven’t used threats or bribes or blackmail or any form of coercion with their husband or children is still listing their weight as 125 pounds on their driver’s license. As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Africa.
If I had a nickel for every complaint . . .
So anyway, back to my complaining and my threats to Craig. If you don’t already know, I wrote a book last year called “Falling from the Moon”. I could go on and on and on about how hard I worked and the hours sacrificed late at night writing or the TV shows I gave up to spend the time toiling in front of my computer, but I won’t. I’m just not that kind of a person.
What I will tell you is that I read only that one book in two years and I read it about a hundred times! I still did a crappy job at self-editing, but that is not my area of expertise. It is actually something my husband is very good at. I had hoped he might take one tinsy iota of interest in my accomplishment and do me a solid by reading through it and pointing out any typos or grammatical errors that I had overlooked.
Can’t pull the wool over my eyes
But I’m sure you can already read the writing on the wall. He protested that he had already put in eighty hours at work or that he read contracts all day or blah blah blah. He falsely promised that as soon as he could catch his breath he would, that he was interested. He just had a regular job, that by the way, paid the bills. The excuses were staggering and it wasn’t long before I went from “when you get time” to “I’ll divorce you so fast it will make your head spin!” One can only take so much heartache and abuse.
I think it was when two of his best friends found themselves in divorce court that he saw the light and did what was in his best interest. Almost one year to the day that I finished the novel, he proudly announced to me that he had read “Falling” and proclaimed that “it was just like a real book”.
At this point, I had a choice. I could hold out and pout for a while (which has its advantages) or I could cave and discuss it with him. My excitement at having a conversation about something other than American Idol or the upcoming Cleveland Brown’s football season won out and my heart raced as I blubbered, “Really? What did you think?”
“It’s not funny,” he replied.
“It’s not supposed to be. It’s historical fiction.”
“Well, then it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
My heart sank a little knowing that the last book he probably read was “Where the Wild Things Are” . . . to the children a few years ago.
“No really, Honey, it was great.” He gave me a little hug and continued, “I couldn’t put it down and even got teary-eyed in a few places. And the story was very engaging and I found myself caring about the characters and you didn’t leave any loose ends. “Actually,” he looked at me with a renewed respect, “I’m impressed. It was a really good book.”
“You think?” I asked. The image I had of me sitting on some barstool, vodka in one hand, cigarette in the other, faded away. I wouldn’t have to go back to serial dating!
“Yeah, I really mean it.” I know him well enough that he is honest to the point of obnoxiousness. He really did mean it. “It would be a great movie,” he added.
All my dreams were coming true. I would be the next Margaret Mitchell and “Falling” would be my “Gone with the Wind”. It would be made into a blockbuster movie and I would buy a small island in the Caribbean, next to Johnny Depp. Life was good.
“Have you sold any?” Craig had the nerve to ask, always the kill-joy.
“Not yet.” I stated indignantly. “But no one knows that the book’s for sale. I haven’t announced it.” My words own words rang out loud and clear as my island get-away slowly slipped into the sea. It was apparent I needed a way to let a large number of people know that they could buy my book on Amazon or through our website bookstore. I’m not the brightest knife in the drawer, but I’m sure something will come to me.
Hmmm . . .
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.
“Mom. . . Tanner pooped in the laundry room.” Max shook me gently as I opened my eyes and squinted at the clock. Six am. “It’s diarrhea,” he added.
I looked over at Craig who was holding his hand over his mouth and gagging. I shook my head in disgust and wondered how he would feel if I told him Tanner used his toilet as a water dish. Some things are better left unsaid.
We weren’t looking to get a dog. Craig and I had decided long ago we were not “dog” people (we weren’t even sure we were “children” people). So you can imagine my confusion when three years ago, an unknown man called and told me he’d received a message from me about adopting his dog.
“I didn’t leave you a message.” I explained.
“Someone named Gracie emailed me that she was interested in adopting a dog.”
“She did, did she. Hold for a moment, please.” I put my hand over the phone and screamed in that crazed-mother voice that Kate Gosselin would appreciate. “Gracie! Get down here!”
Why some animals eat their young
My daughter had always wanted a pet and apparently the thirteen year-old cat she’d had for two months didn’t count. Come to find out, behind my back my only girl had been emailing shelters all over the Chicago area just to “ask” about the dogs available for adoption.
“If you don’t take him we’ll have to put him down,” the very bad man threatened. He had shown up at our house, Tanner by his side. “We’re moving to Europe tomorrow and he can’t come.”
I thought the circumstances somewhat suspect, but that red flag got lost in the desperate cries to save him and the whispers that good mothers do allow their children pets. I was also going through a vulnerable phase in my life (the “Protein Diet”) and by instinct, my children found the crack in my armor and exploited my weakness.
Chow? Shepherd? Mutt???
Tanner was an interesting looking dog. He had the face and upper body of a Shepherd, and the tail, tongue and coat of a Chow. He was colored as his name suggested, and his owner must have warned him of his future because he sat there obediently as though he knew of the consequences if he didn’t.
I questioned him up and down about Tanner’s manners, his temperament, and his ability to use an outside bathroom. I was assured by the man-that-told-many-lies, that Tanner was a model citizen, was perfectly potty-trained, and got along well with anyone – man or animal. Against my better judgment I gave into offspring pressure and Tanner came to live with us.
Tanner started out on good terms. He stayed near the house, came when called and did his business in the business section of our yard. But soon his instincts crept back in and the craziness of a Chow combined with the protectiveness of a Shepherd made for an unpredictable mix.
He was not, I repeat not, friendly with other dogs. As a matter of fact he was diagnosed dog-aggressive by our vet after he jumped through our electric fence, attacked one of our neighbor’s Shelties (requiring stitches in the dog’s paw that cost us a couple hundred dollars) and jumped back through the fence taking the shock for the second time. My neighbor has just recently started speaking to me.
The vet recommended that we either put Tanner down or get the dog therapy. (I forgot to mention, Tanner also bit a hole in one of my mother’s dogs’ head, chased and almost bit a play-date as well as biting my nephew’s leg. Oh, he also got into a number of fights with any dogs he met while on his walks, chased cars as they drove by and stood in our door and growled fiercely at anyone who dared ring the doorbell)
But by this time, my husband was having a love affair with the dog. He would call and in a baby voice ask me how our little pumpkin was or if Tanner had had his morning poop. When he came home from work, he’d brush by me as I stood there mouth puckered, calling out “Tanner” and rolling on the floor and wrestling with the dog that he initially did not want.
Maybe he still has issues with his parents?
We decided to spend the $450 for an hour with the “behaviorist” as we just couldn’t bear the thought of a death-row dog. This is what we got for our money.
“How do you verbally respond when Tanner misbehaves?” The doctor held his clipboard, pen in hand.
“We usually say something along the lines of ‘Tanner, no, no, no. Bad doggie.’” Craig spoke up in his baby-voice.
The doctor raised his eyes at us as he scribbled furiously. “Do you ever hit him?”
“What?” Craig whispered, horrified.
The doctor shrugged. “I’m just asking.”
I couldn’t hold back. “I know it’s wrong and we shouldn’t compare him to other dogs, but last week after he chased the Fed-Ex man, I told him, in a very stern voice, that he was no Bo Obama, and I was sure that Bo didn’t act that way.” There I’d said it!
The doctor couldn’t write fast enough. “What was the situation when he attacked the Sheltie.”
I started to explain before Craig cut me off. “Those dogs are stuck-up. The prance by Tanner every day and they tease him. They’re like ‘Our dog dodo doesn’t stink’. When they bark it sounds like ‘ha ha ha ha’.” I looked over at Tanner, sitting nicely beside the vet and I swore he winked at me.
“I think I see the problem,” the vet answered as he put the clipboard down. His recommendation was eight hours of behavior modification, every day. We could put Tanner on medication and work with him but there were no guarantees. As a matter of fact, he told us, it may be too difficult to teach an old dog new tricks and we couldn’t, in good conscious, give him to anyone. Most shelters did not take aggressive dogs and we may be better off, well you can guess what he told us he would do.
We left in a bit of a huff, wondering why no one saw our dog in the same light we did. We would just have to keep him, literally, on a short leash. Now, when someone comes to the door, I ask them if they are afraid of dogs that bite. If they answer affirmatively, I put Tanner in another room.
He is getting older, we guess he may be around ten, and his bark has lost some of the vicious gusto it used to have, but he is our dog and we love him. We’ve been lucky to avoid a lawsuit so far, but we do we have an attorney in the family so in case of an incident, we got that goin’ for us. Which is nice.