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“Got To Give It Up”

(You can’t make lemonade if life won’t hand you lemons…)

My face was literally buried in my hands.

“Are you laughing or crying?” asked my new Dietitian with a confused expression.

She clearly couldn’t tell.

And I clearly couldn’t tell her.

“I don’t know!” I responded meekly. (Because that’s who I am, meek and mild.)

Just moments earlier this chic had obliterated every reason I had for living.  

Maybe that’s a tad dramatic.  But seriously, it would be quicker to give you a list of things she’s now allowing me to eat.  So let’s start there. The list is as follows:

Fruits

Vegetables 

Water

Those might possibly be the three things I hate most in the world. The Holy Trinity of Yuk.  My interest in H2O is limited to the molecules I’m swimming in or soaking in.  And I’ve never been interested in fruits or vegetables – for any purpose.   It’s 100% a trust issue.  

 Allow me to explain…

My life has always been crazy and chaotic.  Change and inconsistency have been my only constant.  As such, I must absolutely insist upon dependability in my food options.  I hate it when you eat a vegetable or a piece of fruit you really enjoy and then go back for more and it doesn’t taste the EXACT SAME as it did before. Organic foods simply can not be trusted.  

Now, consider the humble Oreo, Cheeto or Dorito.  These highly processed foods can be counted on for reliability and consistency.  They taste EXACTLY THE SAME today as they did in 1971.  Ditto Coca-Cola and M&Ms.  You get the general idea.  Their manufacturers never deviate from the recipe. 

After she was done triggering all my emotional responses to her sadistic dietary restrictions, this lady had the audacity to ask me,

“Aren’t you excited to begin a lifelong commitment to healthy eating habits?”

I assured her that I most certainly WAS NOT.  After complimenting me on my “refreshing honesty” and “unexpected candor,” she proceeded to take me off of sugar, gluten, dairy, chicken, tea and lemons.  

Lemons?

I explained to her that I haven’t been living under a rock lo these 50+ years.  I’m aware of this thing she’s chosen to dedicate her own life to called “nutrition.”  I am a bonafide mother of 5 after all.  It’s not like I’ve never been exposed or introduced to the concept of healthy eating.   It’s just not for me.  I opted out.  

I raised all my children blissfully on pizza, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.  And not the yellow box…the blue box.  That’s the one MY family could afford.  Where you add milk to the neon powder and the kiddos’ lips glowed-in-the-dark all evening.  The powdery residue served a dual purpose, making it easier to see the little stinkers at night.  

And everyone turned out okay.  More than okay.   A-okay.  I’ve got their ACT scores to prove it.  The only one suffering is me.  I’ve got the migraines.  And this doctor thinks it might be gluten. Or dairy. Or sugar. Or chicken. Or lemons.  

C’mon? Lemons?

Well hell…maybe that tracks. Life has certainly handed me some lemons.  But I’ve always been one to whip up a big sugary batch of lemonade.  Because that’s how I roll.  In fact, I’m such a good sport in life that one of my daughters actually accused me of being a “Toxic Optimist!”   And trust me,  she did not mean it as a compliment, but being a Toxic Optimist, I went right on ahead and took it as one.

“Is that even a thing?” I asked skeptically.

Hell yeah!” She assured me.  And it can be a perilous approach to life apparently.  I rolled my eyes (a trick I learned from her) and flippantly dismissed her warning, telling her to see if they can get that etched on my tombstone when they bury me.  It can be my epitaph.  Something like:  “Here lies Leslie Blanchard – Toxic Optimist”

I’m more than willing to take my chances with the perils and pitfalls of Toxic Optimism.  But what now?  How can I be expected to make lemonade when life will no longer hand me lemons? Or even sugar for that matter? 

I’ve often quipped that I have the diet of a 9 year old boy. A huge insult to 9 year old boys everywhere.  That very same keenly observant daughter that lives to label me, amended my disclaimer the other day, suggesting that I actually have the diet of “an unsupervised 9 year old boy!” 

She’s not wrong.  

But she certainly is wrong about the “Toxic Optimism.”  I’m not one bit optimistic about these new dietary constraints.  In fact, I’m pretty damn pessimistic. 

There’s no way I’ll survive very long on fruits, vegetables and water.  

I’m going to need whomever it is that etches tombstones in my area to get started on mine sooner, rather than later.  And it’s gonna be pretty wordy.  “Here lies Leslie Blanchard.  When life gave her lemons, she made lemonade…when life took away her lemons..AND HER SUGAR…she immediately succumbed to “Toxic Pessimism.”

They’ve taken almost everything good in life away from me, surely I can be indulged a wordy tombstone?

“I Know We’re Cool” (When Your Kid Manages to Survive Your Parenting Style…)


Almost everyone knows the story of our youngest child by now.  I made sure of that. 

How he was planned.  How he wasn’t an accident.  How you asked for him.  How you told me you felt like “someone was missing from our family.”  How you felt there was “another soul out there we needed – who was intended to complete us.”  How I relented and we had our fifth child.  How I’ve never quite caught my breath since.

But there’s more to his story.  In honor of his 21st birthday and now that he’s officially an adult, it’s probably okay to share it. Statute of limitations and such.

I conceived right away.  Maybe because my body was in practice?   But I tried to hold you off on finding out for certain.  Impossible.  After the pregnancy was confirmed on Thanksgiving Day, we agreed not to tell anyone until I was further along.  

You waited two full hours and told everyone at Thanksgiving dinner.  I was further along I guess.

People often assume parents get blasé after they’ve had as many kids as we had.  But a lot of the time parents are actually even MORE excited about subsequent pregnancies because they know the joy they’re in for.  It was not our first rodeo and we were rodeo enthusiasts.  

What’s more, he was our first child considerate enough to be born right on his due date.  I’m not saying I love him the most because of that, but he and I certainly got off to a great start.  

The red hair was the literal cherry on top.

We named him John. And Thomas.  And called him Tommy. After my dad, my uncle and my great-grandfather.  Infusing strength through legacy. Suspecting he would need it.   

And boy did he.  

Especially after the stunt we pulled next…it was bold, it was wild, and it was largely unprecedented.  But I do not think it was illegal. Our friends and family gasped in shock.  Unless they had just taken a sip of a beverage and then they just spewed their drink across the room.

Here’s an example of the level of pragmatism that veteran parents of 5 are capable of exhibiting:

In 2000, the year Tommy was born, there was a new restaurant chain opening up in Phoenix called Pei-Wei.  A spin off of the popular PF Chang’s.  We happened to meet the President of the company, who invited us to the VIP opening – which was to be the day after my due date. I assured him we would most likely attend, as I had yet to ever give birth on or before my due date.

 Ever. 

The morning after Tommy was born, you and I were sitting in my hospital room gazing lovingly at our latest creation, when you reminded me about the new Asian bistro that was opening that day.

“Too bad we can’t go…” I wistfully mused.

“Who says we can’t?” You responded. “Hear me out…”

That’s when you explained that our little Tommy was the “safest he was ever going to be in his entire life” at that very moment in that hospital surrounded by all the doctors and nurses.  “Baby professionals” I believe is how you referred to these individuals.

(Mildly offensive, as I fancied myself a “Baby Professional”)

“It’s all down hill for him from here!” you went on to enthusiastically explain.  “Once we take him home, his life will literally be in danger every day.  He’s safest here in the hospital.  Let’s go grab some lunch!”

I must’ve looked dubious, because in one final push for a free lunch you added, “It’s cool – we’re cool, he’s cool!”

I knew you were cool, and obviously this was one cool little newborn, but I wasn’t sure I was quite THAT cool…

But I was starving.  And, I couldn’t think of the last time I had eaten an entire meal in peace. And hospital food didn’t count.  

So we went.  Yes we did. 

We discharged me from Chandler Regional Hospital, drove down the street to the opening of the Pei Wei Asian Bistro for lunch.  We dined on lettuce wraps, Dan-Dan Noodles and Orange Chicken.  Scrumptious.  Then we hobb-nobbed a little.  

After the party, we drove back to the hospital, matched my plastic hospital bracelet to the baby’s ankle bracelet, discharged our baby and took him home.

 Everything was cool.   Everyone was cool. 

I met that baby for cocktails and birthday dinner the other night.  I quipped that it was his first sip of alcohol ever. Pretty positive that was not the case, but he was sweet enough to play along.  

He made our dinner reservations.  For 5:30.  (Obviously he had a full evening planned with friends and was squeezing me in early.) Nonetheless, I mismanaged my time and came skidding up to the valet on two wheels, per the usual.  I’m sorta known for that.  

I ran into the bar where he was waiting patiently for me.  He’d already ordered his first cocktail.  They’d already carded him. 

“I’m sorry I’m late!” I said when I arrived at 5:45, armed with a litany of really excellent excuses. 

“We’re cool!” our baby boy replied calmly taking a sip of God-knows-what.

I took a sip of my drink when they brought it, suddenly reminded of that day 21 years ago when we picked him up a little late from the hospital and how not much has changed except you aren’t here. But still…it’s cool.

He’s not holding anything against me. I know we’re cool.

“She Works Hard For The Money” (But What If She’s Not Actually Getting Paid…)

 

It’s official.   Our country has hit a new national low.  

My 3 year old grandson brought his mother an outfit today.  I’m talking jeans, shirt, socks and shoes.   By way of explanation, he said to her,

Can I wear clothes today?  I’m gonna take a break from pajama day…”

So, there you have it.  In a nutshell.  Not only have the toddlers of America noticed that adults have spent their days in athleisure-wear and pajamas for over a year now, they are quite dismayed by it.  Our nation’s toddlers are tired of lazy unproductive sloths.  This one toddler in particular.  And it worries me.  It worries me greatly.   Because I’m his new Nanny – starting next week.  Granted, it’s only one day a week. 

 But still. 

Technically, I started my new position as Nanny over a month or so ago, I just haven’t been required to “clock-in” yet.  I can’t remember what happened to all the other days I was supposed to “work.”  One of them was Martin Luther King Day –  When my daughter realized she didn’t have to actually go in to work herself, she offered to get her hair done, so I could spend time with the kids anyway.  

“That’s okay!” I declined cheerfully.  In my defense, I knew I was about to sign away my uber-exciting life of freedom starting…well…starting really soon.  Even my 22 year old son chastised me for that response.  “Gosh Mom!  You’re The Grandma!”  I didn’t have much of a comeback.   All I could think of was, “You’re The Uncle!” Which was pretty lame, considering he lives in another state and is in law school.  

But, he did have a point.  

Nonetheless, I packed my bags and took off for sunny Florida.  I had a reservation on Southwest Airlines to return home the day before my next “First Day” when my flight was cancelled due to inclement weather.   I called to apologize to my Daughter-Boss.   She was extremely understanding. 

The rest is history.  At least it is if you’re tuning into The Weather Channel.  

Now, I’ve missed my first 3 days of my new one-day-a-week job.   I don’t really know what that says about me as a grandmother or even as a human-being, but I’ll wager it’s not favorable.  

Add to that how alarmed I am that 50% of my protégés is insisting that the time has come to “take a break from pajama day!”  This kid is infused with that renewable energy we keep hearing about.  He is ready to take 2021 in a new direction.  I’m totally picking up the vibe he is laying down.  And I’m entirely screwed, as it’s obviously going to involve me.   

Last night, around 5:30 pm, on Day 6 or 7 of this epic Winter Storm, still sporting my pajamas, I poured my coffee down the sink and poured myself a glass of wine.  (That’s how Today’s Modern Adult can tell when daytime has rolled into nighttime.)  Then I FaceTimed the kids.   They seemed genuinely thrilled to see a fresh new face.  

A few minutes into the conversation, it became apparent that my daughter has been amping up how exciting it’s going to be when Grandma Lay-lay finally comes to babysit.   This is a classic sign of maternal desperation. I could resent her for this, but I don’t.   I remember my days back in the trenches.  A mother will latch on to anything to generate some fresh excitement in the home.   And, trust me, there’s nothing like a “countdown!” Similar to an Advent Calendar – waiting on the Baby Jesus and Santa Claus – my grandkids are counting down the days until I arrive next Monday to infuse their tiny little lives with fun and excitement.  Like I’m some red-headed, freckle-faced, burnt-out Mary Poppins.  

Damn it!

The little tyke even had the audacity to ask me in all his sweet lispy innocence, “What we gonna do when you are at my house way-way?”  

Oh crap!

I had to conjure up a response on the fly, “We are going to lie around and take naps and just hug and kiss each other, eat snacks, watch tv and then take more naps!”

I could instantly tell he was less than enthused.  So much for Santa Claus and Mary Poppins.  My approval ratings were falling fast.   

He was clearly seeking more.  Why wasn’t that on the application?  Why wasn’t that a job interview question before I was hired?  I mean, C’mon, What the Hell?

I know what he wants.  He wants to dance and sing and play dinosaurs and trains.   And possibly put together puzzles.  He also works on his sight-words and practices his Spanish.   This kid’s energy and work ethic at the tender age of 3 is simply unparalleled.   Well, what did I expect?  He’s the first-born child of two first-born children.  

But sheesh, he’s intense.  If his baby sister lazes around with her dollies for too long, he’s been known to tell his mother, “She needs to work on her Spanish for a little while!” 

Did I mention she’s 1?  She doesn’t even speak English yet.  

How do you say, “Chill out!” in Espanol?   

Grandma Lay-Lay was thinking we could enjoy lots of “screen time!”  (I’m so glad they didn’t have the term “screen time” when I was raising my kids.  But, in defense of my generation, we only had the one screen – the evil telly.  We didn’t have all these other smart devices to worry about.  Thus, we didn’t have to be quite so vigilant.)

I’m really just kidding.   Si, I AM going to play dinosaurs.  Si, Si, I AM.   I’m just not sure for how long.   I’m not sure how long a person can hold a plastic dinosaur and pretend to roar at another person holding a plastic dinosaur?  The truth is that I was hoping we could just lie around in our PJs and snuggle on the days I am over there.  

But I know snuggly kids that want to lie around doing nothing all day are not in the best interest of America’s future.  

In spite of all my shortcomings as a mother, I managed to raise some passionate young adults who are in turn raising the “Movers and Shakers of Tomorrow!” and I know that’s a good thing.   So, one day a week, STARTING NEXT WEEK, I SWEAR, I’m going to shed my pajamas and put on pants with a snap and a zipper, drive over there and support the cause.   

Maybe there is hope for the future yet.  All thanks to me!

 

 

“Baby Come Back” (Back-To-School Parting is Always Such Sweet Sorrow, But they Might Be Home Again Soon…)

Interns

This month clusters of moms will get together for impromptu Happy Hours to celebrate the most glorious season of the year…no, not Christmas…It’s Back to School Season!

This year we aren’t sure if we are celebrating the end of a very long Summer that began back in March or a ridiculously long Spring Break that is just now ending in August, but either way we are raising our glasses and toasting something that may or may not be over.

It’s been a weird time for all.

In Spring of 2020, college kids boomeranged back home in droves, high schoolers were sent home for parents to homeschool (adults who barely passed their own Calculus classes 20 years ago???) and middle school kids were running the streets like it was Ferris Bueller’s Eternal Day Off.

These “dark times of uncertainty,” (a 2020 catchphrase we are all growing weary of) have led to some ingeniously creative problem-solving parenting tactics. One such personal ploy that I am particularly proud of is the “Summer Internship” I created.

My oldest son finished up his college undergrad coursework in May, snapped his laptop shut after his last exam and looked at me like, “What now?” 8 weeks to kill until law school in another state. Not enough time to apply for a job locally, only to train and quit to move away for post-graduate study.

Hence, the necessity of some resourceful parenting strategies on my part, which led to the creation of an unpaid Summer Internship under my tutelage.

Now, you might ask yourself what a Summer Internship would actually entail as the minion of an unemployed, scarcely compensated, lackadaisical part-time writer/mother/grandmother? That’s a valid question and a legitimate concern my son immediately raised when I suggested he could be my “Assistant” for the summer.

“But, you don’t do anything!” he protested.

“Yes I do, I’m a writer,” I responded quite indignantly. A little miffed, yes, but I did take his point. He can’t really be expected to help me write random articles on marriage and family.

And, yet, I found plenty to keep him busy.

This summer his duties included, but were not limited to, going to the grocery store, where he procured only foods he likes, so I’ve subsisted all summer on Hot Pockets, Pop Tarts and Muscle Milk – and I’ve got the body to prove it. He also helped me learn how to operate all of my TV remotes and streaming services, he’s taken out the trash and just the other day I had him switch a new roll of paper towels onto the paper towel holder.

Things really heated up toward the end of the summer though, when his older sister came rolling into town for a remote work assignment, with her newborn daughter in tow. She left said baby with us for a few days. Needless to say, I was infinitely grateful for the extra pair of hands my trusty Intern provided.

The week culminated with him changing a diaper. A task for which he had no formal training and for which I provided only a modicum of verbal instruction. I merely challenged him to take the paper panty and put it on the tiny child, assuring him that if he could muddle through this task, he was well on his way to conquering anything life would throw his way.

He managed it.

His success notwithstanding, he did seem a little too enthusiastic this week to rent his Uhaul, pack his things and flee the scene, clearly eager to begin the next phase of his young academic life. I stood out on the driveway at 7 am and waved goodbye with a lump in my throat.

Not because I miss him, mind you. But, simply because good Summer Interns are just so hard to come by.

Equally heartbreaking, my youngest moves out tomorrow.

We will see how long this separation lasts though. I’m skeptical, as I was required to sign something from the University yesterday stating that I am aware he might not be living on campus all year. (I found it peculiar that they made me sign something. As if I might say, “No, I’m not taking him back!”)

I’m not giving up my Costco card just yet. I could be buying in bulk again soon…

I think it’s safe to say, if there’s anything all of us can agree on with 100% certainty these days it is that we can not be 100% certain of anything. It’s entirely possible we may get all of our children/Interns back again the very second a classmate coughs or sneezes. (No one wants to be cavalier with the Covid after the bizarre year we’ve had so far. Even the slow-to-come-around are realizing this virus seems to be nothing to trifle with.)

So, after we celebrate “Back to School,” its probably time to start thinking about what a Fall/Winter Unpaid Internship Program might entail. It’s the Valuable Life Skills for me. So perhaps my young protégées will learn how to gut a pumpkin, make Oyster Dressing, re-string the lights on the Pre-lit tree, wrap a tight corner on a Christmas present and other valuable seasonal skills that will render them “essential personnel.”

That way, when I’m standing there sobbing on my driveway in January in my faded mis-matched Christmas pajamas, it won’t be because I’m sad that all my sweet babies are gone (yet again). It’ll just be…ya know…good holiday help…it’s just so stinking hard to find.

Someone make me a martini. (Never mind, I’ll make it myself, but I’m adding that to the list of things a decent QuarnIntern should know…)

“If I Could Change The World” (We Were The First to Teach Them About Justice, Love and Equality, So Why Are We Shook When They Want to Go Fight The Good Fight.)

My 19 year old son works at a high-end poshy steakhouse in the heart of downtown America.  He had a shift last Saturday night.

Initially, when he got his schedule for the week, I was thrilled he was getting scheduled so many hours. I know it’s risky for him to be milling about in public with this coronavirus still at large, but ever since he got sent home from his university after Spring Break due to public health concerns, I’ve grown increasingly concerned over how detrimental it is to his overall well-being to be isolated from his peers at his age.

As parents of young people in this age group know, it’s a balancing act.

For my son, at least right now, I believe it’s in his best interests to wear a mask and work a few days per week. It feels like a chance worth taking in the ongoing trapeze walk that has become my life as a single parent.

Until this past weekend…

I spent 7 hours glued to the news.  It was more news than I’ve watched since my husband was killed. In fact, it was the very first time I have watched the news since I watched my sweetheart’s mangled motorcycle being towed off the street on 3 separate news channels. I picked up the remote, clicked the news off and haven’t seen a news report since.

Until Saturday.

But big trouble was brewing in our downtown area. My youngest son was down there oblivious to it all, bussing tables.  My biggest worry was him getting to his car safely after work.  I texted him to come straight home after his shift ended and steer clear of any protests or large crowds.

He texted me back assuring me that there were not any protests in our town and they were only in very large major cities; adding that IF there was one, he would definitely want to attend.

That was when I knew I potentially had a dilemma on my hands.  I don’t know why it never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t avoid the protesters, but would rather seek them out    He has never been one to stomach social injustice in any form.

At this point, I hadn’t even made myself watch the George Floyd video.   I admit I’ve allowed myself to live in a protective bubble since my husband was killed.   Can we just write it off to some innate survival instinct?   I cried all night after I watched the video

My boy arrived home safe and sound a few hours later. Exhausted to the bone from a grueling night at the restaurant, completely oblivious to the fact that there had INDEED been a mild uprising in our medium-to-large sized city, with more planned for the following day.

The next morning, my son woke up to several informative texts from friends. The group Black Lives Matter had organized a daytime rally which would start that afternoon at the steps of our state capital and march to the steps of our city’s police station.

I heard about it the night before so I knew before my son did. I spent all night researching reasons why he shouldn’t go. I had a dozen good reasons – ranging from the fact that hate groups were protesting against the peaceful protestors in very dangerous and aggressive ways. I also came up with some dumb “Mom reasons,” such as you’ll need a TON of sunblock out there to protect your ginger skin in that blazing heat…

I know. That’s super lame. But I was desperate and my youngest of 5 children is a cross between Prince Harry and Ed Sheeran.

In the end, after a sleepless night of grappling with the pros and the cons, I realized that I raised all 5 of my kids from the cradle to the crowd – (the protesting crowd.) I was never the mother that chased my kids with a jacket, a tissue or even a bedtime. I trusted them to know if they were cold or sick or tired…it was always their call. But what I always drew a hard line at was character issues and mistreatment of others.

I recall drilling into each and every single one of them that they had more than a responsibility, but a MANDATE to protect the bullied. I specifically remember telling this very son at one time, when we were discussing a kid in his class that was being bullied, that if he stood by silently, than he was AS GUILTY as the bully himself.

So…now my kids accuse me of making them overly-sensitive. Okay. I guess I can own that. I hope they can work that into my eulogy. Better yet, maybe I can just write my own eulogy. I think I’d like that.

Is that a thing?  Please tell me that’s a thing.   It needs to be a thing.

So, I’m going to grit my teeth and grip my rosary while my kids stand up against what they feel is wrong in this country. I pray to God it doesn’t cost me any children because I know I’ll only have myself to blame (and their Dad who caused many a dust-up speaking his mind anytime he wanted. He was not afraid to challenge authority – EVER!!! ).

It looks like a lot of us raised a new generation of bull-headed, strong-willed, rabble-rousers who speak and live their truths.

I think what our generation can do right now is attend daytime peaceful protests (they need bodies) donate funds, organize vigils,  and change the rhetoric, for the love of God and humanity.  But most importantly, show our kids we are proud of them for doing the right thing at the right time and trying to make a difference.

And, of course, we can still make them wear sunblock.

 

“Witchy Woman???” Nonsense…Just A Little Temperamental And Misunderstood…

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Apparently the world celebrated Redhead Day this week. Not National Redhead Day, but World Redhead Day. This was a day the entire planet was supposed to take a short 24 hour break from fretting over the Novel Coronavirus to celebrate the Novel Redhead.

I trust all of you were able to set your life and death cares aside momentarily to give this day the full attention it deserves.

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I only chanced to learn of this important event due to social media. I was inundated on Facebook with memes, giphs and private messages congratulating me for surviving the plight of my youth.

Thank heavens for the efforts of social media campaigns to raise public awareness about this important event, because the good folks down at Hallmark (the unofficial arbiters of all holidays) are not up to speed. There are no “Happy Redhead Day” cards in the aisles of Walgreens.

Yes, I checked.

Also, no one took me to dinner to celebrate.

And…no one bought me a gift. Not even a box of hair dye.

Yet, I am not entirely disheartened. I remain optimistic because I know, like all the great social movements, it takes some time to build public awareness and sensitivity. To be honest, I’m just relieved they aren’t burning my kind at the stake anymore.

I did a little google research when all the memes came floating across my iPad this week and found out that public sentiment towards redheads fluctuates depending on what “era” you live in. Several hundred years ago, 40,000-60,000 red headed women (a huge range, but the metrics weren’t as accurate back then) were tried and convicted as witches simply for having hair that was supposedly “kissed by Satan.”

Preposterous! I sincerely doubt these fiery ladies were witches. I can tell you from personal experience they were just a little temperamental and woefully misunderstood.

Fortunately,  we are embarking on a new time whereby humanity embraces our differences. You can see glimpses of this when you watch television commercials. Madison Avenue seems to understand that we no longer desire to purchase products endorsed solely by Barbie and Ken types.

This was certainly not the atmosphere when I was growing up and my tender young self esteem was being formed. When I was a little girl, I prayed fervently every night for God to change the color (and texture) of my hair.

Now I lay me down to sleep…
I pray the Lord my hair to keep…
Replace it with some other girl’s…
and while you’re at it, she can have my curls…”

No one was “celebrating redheads.“  I was taunted mercilessly on the school yard.

I’d rather be dead than red on the head!”

When I played Barbies after school with my older sister and our friends, they handed me Midge, Barbie’s frizzy-headed freckle-faced cousin. It was bad enough that I had to look like Midge in real life. I merely wanted to play with Barbie for a little make-believe relief.

On television, my role models were those straight haired blondes Laurie Partridge and the 3 darling sisters from the Brady Bunch. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to run around looking like Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House On The Prairie. It was hard to take her seriously, much less try to emulate her “look” in her calico dress, bonnet and galvanized lunch pail.

Because my offspring have been known to skim across my blog occasionally, I won’t go into too much detail, but I was blessed to marry their father, a man that found redheads (and Laura Ingalls Wilder) sexy. Perhaps he was just drawn to writers. I don’t know, but he occasionally called me “half-pint” and favored those innocent white cotton nightgowns.

I’ll leave it at that.

Of course, now that it’s a little trendy, we find that the red headed population is diminishing. We represent less than 2% of the human population. Thus, we are keenly watching my latest grandchild, eagerly holding our breath for signs of impending gingerness.

She looks like she might come through…but it’s too early to call.

If she is indeed a Ginger, then perhaps by the time she’s ready for college our government may have come up with some type of restitution in the form of scholarship money or a stimulus check to pay my people back for our centuries of suffering.

It’s the least they could do for me and my ilk. Me and girls like Midge, Raggedy Ann, and the Un-named thousands that were barbecued in the name of hair color.

Until then, we will just feed our latest wee lass Lucky Charms and keep our fingers crossed. And if I thought I could cast a spell for her to have red hair, I certainly would not be above it.

But alas, if I had any special powers up my little calico sleeve I most certainly would have used them on my own head in the 70s.

But I don’t. Because I am merely a Ginger.  A little misunderstood. A little temperamental. Not my fault.

Blame the hair

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“Once, Twice, Three Times A Lay-Lay” (Flattening The Curve With A Third Baby…)

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There’s been a lot of emphasis on “flattening the curve” lately.  In keeping with this current trend, our family is going to do our part by flattening a rather large curve of our own.  The only difference is that our local medical community won’t be getting any relief.

  Quite the opposite.

We will actually be enlisting their help flattening the curve of my youngest daughter’s tummy as she delivers her first child.

In full disclosure, I guess it isn’t exactly a family effort, per se.

In fact, they aren’t even going to let ME in the hospital.  No extraneous personnel allowed.  Each laboring mother is allowed just one “support person” these days and my daughter has chosen the baby’s father.  (You might remember him from last year, when he co-starred in another one of my family’s productions as “The Groom.”)

I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of my very own children would be bringing a child into the world and I wouldn’t be at least a few feet away in the hospital waiting room drowning myself in coffee and prayers, watching that red second hand on the big industrial wall clock…

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick

But, I do get it.  Kind’ve…

It makes sense in these days of uncertainty over the novel Coronavirus.  I’m sorely disappointed, nonetheless. 

Gracie told me back in September – when she informed me of her (SURPRISE!) pregnancy – that she wanted me in the Labor and Delivery room when the baby emerged into this world.  Not just out in the waiting room, but actually in the delivery room.  I was so delighted.

But, alas, I’ve now been deemed “non-essential.  Never matter, I’ll just position myself outside the Labor and Delivery Room window in the parking lot.

It will be similar to the sonogram I wasn’t allowed to attend.  I did get to participate somewhat via FaceTime.  The technician pointed out what appeared to be static on the screen, informing us it was hair.

It was concentrated on the back of this baby girl’s neck.  What we know thus far…

She’s sporting a Lady Mullet!

At this point, we actually know more about her character and personality, than her looks. We know she fought hard just to exist against some pretty insurmountable odds and then proceeded to battle even harder to stay nestled safely in utero during a grueling 9 hour cancer surgery.  So that tells us a lot.

That tells us she’s got chutzpah, this wee girl.  Which, honestly, could explain the mullet.

I carry my copy of the sonogram picture around in my purse.  When I gaze at it, I’m struck by the fact that, while she was being formed, I was spending thousands of dollars on her parents’ wedding photography that I really never look at.  Yet I do take time to ponder over this grainy, fuzzy image they handed over free of charge.

Isn’t life ironic?

What I find myself searching for is various family traits.   Since the image was only available in black and white,  I can’t tell if she’s blessed with The Gingerness.  So, instead I search for my family’s infamous WTF line.  This is a large crevice that runs horizontally smack down the center of everyone in my family’s forehead.

Mine is larger than the Grand Canyon so I’m thinking it might show up in ultrasound technology.

I was sitting with my brother in his backyard two nights ago when I noticed his. There it was.  Bigger than Dixie.  Since he’s a dude, he can’t cover it with bangs like me and my sister.  Poor Schmuck.

I call it our WTF line because it’s connected to a prominent muscle in our forehead that scrunches up when we find ourselves in utter disbelief at the idiocy of the people around us.  And apparently, there is an accompanying face we make to go with the emotion.  It’s the WTF face.

Which is quite expressive.

Which results in an enormous wrinkle.

Which is intense.

Several of my offspring were born with it and in others it showed up as early as 6 weeks of age.  This is why I always “fed on demand” and never implemented those sly parenting tactics such as, “cry it out” or “sleep training.”

These creative strategies lead to babies crinkling their foreheads and looking up at their inept parents with dismay as if to say, “What the flip?”

It was bad enough whenever I happened to accidentally disappoint them to see their tiny little furrowed foreheads wrinkling like a Shar Pei puppy, deepening that crease, ensuring a lifetime of Botox injections.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that one could dip a ruler in most of my family’s foreheads and gauge, with total accuracy, just how challenging our lives have been.

Rest assured when this baby is born, I’ll be sitting outside in that parking lot waiting on her tomorrow.  I will require her parents hold her up to the window so her Lay-Lay can get a good look at her forehead.  Because this little angel has already been through a lot and might have the forehead wrinkle to prove it. 

So tonight, as I lay me down to sleep, I pray to The Patron Saint of Foreheads that hers is a smooth one. But, if it isn’t, she can just rock that WTF line alongside her Lady Mullet and be the Bad Ass Baby we already know she is.

At least until she can grow out a decent set of bangs.

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(Me watching the birth in the lawn under the window of Labor and Delivery.  Thank you FaceTime.  The next best thing to being there!)

“Keeping The Faith” (A Retrospective Look At Life Interrupted)

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When we lived in Phoenix I was afraid.

We were 1000 miles away from family and friends.  In our mid-30s saddled/blessed with 4 children.  We moved out there to pursue a much-needed business opportunity.

Everywhere we’d lived, prior to this, was driving distance from our parents’ homes.  All the previous cities were fairly similar to one another.  Simply put, Arizona was a culture shock. Everything about the area was different from what we were accustomed to.

It was the desert.

It looked strange, felt strange, seemed strange.

Turns out – I had good reason to be angsty.  In the time we lived there, the bottom fell out of the tech industry (the success of which our business endeavor relied heavily upon), my father passed away in Dallas, leaving my mother widowed and much too far away, immediately followed by 9/11.   

The ensuing scorpion infestation of our home gets it’s own line.

Yet, in that time, we also managed to draw our family and marriage closer, as we leaned on each other in our perceived solitude.  We started hiking, traveled extensively to a lot of cool places (we would’ve never visited otherwise) picked up some wonderful new friends along the way and shared the most AMAZING sunsets together.

Without question, the very best thing to come out of that era was our 5th and last child.*** And yet, as much as I acknowledge and appreciate those positive aspects…

…when Jimmy came home and told me his company had an opening for him back in Oklahoma, I personally  hammered a For Sale sign into our rocky xeriscaped yard the very next morning.

We were in the desert 4 years.  Which beats the Hell out of 40 years. 

(My Ginger skin is still resentful by the way. It was made to accommodate the overcast, misty Moors of Scotland, not open terrain under an unrelenting blazing sun…)

Years later, when friends would inquire how we “liked living out there” I would answer enthusiastically, “We absolutely loved it!

And Jimmy would all but fall out of his chair.  Stunned by my ability to lie.

We’d been married long enough to refrain from contradicting one another too obviously in public, but when he challenged me later, this is how I explained my response:  Phoenix was a little similar to a military tour-of-duty.  I likened it to when my dad was stationed in Germany and Africa.  My family knew in advance the finite beginning and ending of both 3 year “tours” in advance.

I went on to explain- looking back, I would’ve relaxed and appreciated our time in Arizona more if I was assured my life was going to GET BACK TO NORMAL eventually.  I really value that element of predictability and control in my life.   I think most of us do.

In all the wisdom provided by our old pal hindsight, I should’ve been grateful for the undistracted family time we had together….enjoyed the uniqueness of the moment and the memories we made.  In short – kept the faith.

Easter looked and felt weird to us all yesterday.  As have the past few weeks and months.  Everything about this nationwide quarantine looks different, feels different seems different.  It’s definitely tested most of us.

But, this too, shall pass.

We will all emerge soon from this “Life Interrupted” to congregate once again with our friends and families armed with our own unique stories to share.  Tales of virtual Easter Egg hunts, Zoom family meetings, family quarantine-quibbles and more.

Humorous recollections will be intertwined with frightening memories of navigating through an unprecedented time of financial strain, aligned with fear for the very health of our loved ones, in tandem with uncertainty over the future of our societal infrastructure.

We won’t – none of us- come out of this the same.  This surreal experience has put life in an entirely new perspective for us, not to mention what it’s done for our kids.  (Parents, you don’t need me to tell you, this pandemic has probably taught our kids more life lessons than we’ve taught them ourselves since they were born.)

But, like most things, it has a beginning and an end.  I strongly suspect we will all look back on it and remember the blessings.   None of us will be the same, that’s for sure and certain.

***Just to be clear, I am not suggesting everyone go make a baby during this quarantine time period.  The idea was mentioned solely for the purpose of a “literary life metaphor.”  Not advocacy.  

****Especially my own children.

 *****All projects currently underway are joyfully anticipated, obviously.

 

 

Happy Anniversary Baby I’ve Got You On My Mind…

E29A3EB7-2905-4945-BD64-EC5B077900ACI want you to know I got through today okay.

Just an hour and a half left.  And then it will be tomorrow.

It’s hard to believe I married you 35 years ago today.  I don’t know where the time went, but wow, it flew by.  Just like everyone told us it would.   We were just babies.  How could we know?  There’s just some things about life you can’t know until you actually know.

Gracie’s wedding last month was beautiful.  I hope you saw it in some way or another. I know you were distracted by the “Game of the Century” – LSU VS ALABAMA, but I felt your presence holding me up as I walked down the aisle.  Or maybe that was your two beautiful sons.   I don’t know for sure.  But there was palpable strength.

 It made me think a lot about our wedding day.  All I can remember was when they dramatically swung open those two big wide double oak doors of Our Lady of Mercy,  I looked nervously down the aisle and was so relieved to see you standing on the alter, flanked by your dad, your brother and your best friend.

I don’t know what I expected.  Did I think you weren’t going to show up?  You RSVP’d that you were planning on attending.   So, of course you did.  The fine young southern gentleman that you were.  A promise keeper to the end.

A lot has changed since you’ve been gone.  But also nothing has changed.   Everything is still the same, and yet entirely different.

I bought 2 pair of really soft, warm expensive socks that I keep in my nightstand drawer because my feet still get so cold at night.  Only now I can’t twine them around your body and make you shriek out in your sleep calling me “popsicle toes!”

I still can’t find the television remote.  Ever.  I still have to unmake the entire bed and use the flashlight feature on my cell phone to look for it under the covers.   It sucks so hard that I can’t blame you for misplacing it.  Now, it’s all on me when it’s missing. 

Damn it.

I can’t find my cell phone a lot either.  A lot of times I have to look for my phone first, just so that I can hunt down the remote.

Did I mention how much I miss the sound of football and basketball blaring as the backdrop of my life 24/7 while you rant at the coaches, players and refs?   

By the way, those five children we made….They are still assholes.  But they’re also amazingly amazing.   Just like you predicted they would be.

You just wouldn’t believe how successful, brilliant and attractive they all are.   They take after you.    They have all changed so very much since you passed.   They were forced to battle their way out of childhood almost overnight when they lost their dad.  It was sad, but awe-inspiring.   It spoke volumes about the spark you left kindled inside them all.

And yet, in many ways, they are exactly as you left them.

They are exactly as you knew them to be and said they would be.  You knew them each immediately and instinctively and constantly reassured my angst.

 I sure do miss complaining about them with you.  You were the only safe person to complain to, because you are the only other person in the world that loved them unconditionally, as I do.

There was no judgement.   Anything they did was at least 1/2 your fault (maybe more?)

Our firmly established “Bad Cop/Good Cop” parenting formula is a colossal fail ever since Bad Cop turned in his badge and took early retirement.  No one seems to take Good Cop seriously.

One more thing.  And I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but…

We have 2 1/2 grandchildren now.  Every time I’m with them, I find myself searching intently for you.  I look for your blink, your lips, an inflection, an attitude, a tone, a brow furrow or a shoulder shrug.  I know you’re in there somewhere.

I look forward to finding you as the years go by.  My hope is to get you back in little particles and pieces every day.

Know that I’ll never never stop looking My Love.

“And The Beat Goes On” (Inevitably, When the Next Generation Comes Along, We End Up Right Back Where We Came From…)

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Anna, 4 mos, qualified as a “non-vertical” and was merely recognized in a slide show during intermission.  We look forward to the days she will steal the spotlight….

My son-in-law has no idea how lucky he is to have me as a Mother-in-law…

It all began when I awoke to the savage sounds of an alarm clock blaring this morning.

It was faintly familiar, yet a distantly forgotten annoyance from my past life.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had to start my day in such a harsh way.  In hindsight, I almost wish there had been a hidden camera in my bedroom filming my reaction, as I fumbled around trying to understand why anything would actually be trying to wake me up. 

I’m an incurable insomniac, so the last thing I ever do is pre-set a mechanism to purposely awaken myself – should the sweet relief of slumber chance to find me.

But, today my grandson*** had his first live onstage performance.   He was the lead in his Dayschool’s Christmas rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star.”   (At least he appeared as the lead in the Indy version I filmed, edited and produced.  All the other toddlers trifled about onstage as mere “extras.”)

Sadly, the program began at the ungodly hour of 9 on a weekend morning.  When I found out the time, I lamented quietly to myself,

“Why?

Why?

Why?

Who is up and about at that hour?” And then I remembered from my own experience…children….and their parents.

I’m really not the Diva I’m making myself out to be.   Quite the contrary. I served my time.  I raised 5 kids.  I did my bit for The Pope and all of Humanity.  I’m not sure I could actually count how many Christmas programs, band recitals, dance recitals, swim meets and ball tournaments (every type of ball ever made)  I’ve logged at or before sunrise on a weekend morning.  

And I’m not really even that bitter…

After all, I have had 4 years now to rest.  To sleep in.  To rediscover  lazy.  To find myself almost borderline disinclined.

But, once I was up, dressed and downed a cup of coffee, I was in that auditorium with bells on. jingle bells in fact.  

I actually arrived before anyone else and saved seats for the whole family on the 3rd row.   (I’ve been known for years by everyone as “Our Lady of Perpetual Tardiness,” So I’ve delighted in surprising relatives at how prompt I am these days, now that I’m responsible for dressing only myself!)

This wasn’t the school’s first rodeo, nor their first Christmas Program.   They knew from experience to begin the event with the students I’ll refer to as “Vertical Diaper-Clad.”  They called them the “1 year old and 2 year old classrooms.”   The Non-Verticals (aka: horizontal infants) did not perform, but were “recognized” in a slide show during intermission.

My grandson and his class were the fourth or fifth act to perform.  Apparently, there was some little  ham of a girl center-stage who stole the show with some version of “the worm,”  but I never got to see her shannanigans, as I was assigned the job of videoing my own progeny, thus my eye and my iPhone were trained solely on him.

Mea culpa

He started out with a little stage fright, but then you could see the light of recognition cross his face as he thought, “Oh yes, I recall rehearsing this number!” and began a series of plyometric movements that one can only hope will assist him down the road in dunking a basketball at an earlier age than most.

Right before our tot came on stage, my son-in-law nonchalantly announced his intention to depart as soon as his son’s number concluded.   Not unlike this morning’s alarm clock, this was also faintly reminiscent of something or someone from my past.

And so was my daughter’s reaction.

You can’t do that!   It’s rude to all the other families and their children who watched YOUR child perform!”

This was me and my hubby going at it at every one of our kids’ events from 1990-2010.

Right about that time, over the PA system, the school announced that there would be a “slight intermission” to allow time for the the parents of the Diaper Clad Verticals who had just performed to collect their children backstage.

That’s when I intervened, earnestly explaining to my daughter that the school creates this intermission purposely, so “the families of younger children can leave the auditorium with discretion.”

They don’t expect us to stay for the next 2 hours until the 10 year olds sing.  It’s just too hard on the wee ones!  We will have years and years to endure all of this,”  I gently persuaded, (unselfishly on behalf of my busy son-in-law.)

She relented.

As we were leaving, I pinched my son-in-law as hard as I could on the back of his arm and hissed,

You owe me!”

For what?” he protested. “I was leaving after he sang no matter what!” all puffed up and full of his foolish manhood.

Rookie.

If my mom had been there, (The Gold Standard by which all other grandmotherly enthusiasm  should  be measured by) I guarantee she would’ve mustered up a tear and said, “Oh we simply have to stay and listen to all the other classes sing.  The sound of children caroling is so joyful!   It’s what Christmas is all about!”

3 hours later, we would’ve been fighting our way out of that parking lot bumper-to-bumper, with low blood sugar hating Christmas hating children and hating carols.

Not necessarily in that specific order.

No – What Christmas is all about is Peace, Love and Pragmatism.

Christmas is also about the jaw-droppingly amazing gift I expect my son-in-law to give me next week as it occurs to him that I’m the coolest, most supportive mother-in-law a dude could ever have, albeit camouflaged as a somewhat Accidental Grandmother.

***I know it’s hard to believe I’m a grandmother but that’s what happens when YOU have a child and then THEY have a child.   There’s nothing you can do about it.  And it doesn’t matter what chic little moniker you come up with to call yourself –  You’re still a grandparent.