“And The Beat Goes On” (Inevitably, When the Next Generation Comes Along, We End Up Right Back Where We Came From…)
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,
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.
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.)
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.
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.
“I Can Feel It Coming In The Air Tonight” (When we Are Certain We Have No Reason To Live, But We Actually Just Might…)
“Bless me Father for I have sinned…I’d try to calculate how long it’s been since my last confession, but it’s a moot point, because when you hear the sin I’ve committed, you’re probably going to tell me it can’t be absolved anyway…”
The unpardonable of all unpardonables.
It all came to my attention when I received a phone call from my baby brother a few months ago. He good-naturedly informed me that I had inadvertently scheduled my third daughter’s wedding on the exact same day as the biggest football rivalry in the history of all football rivalries.
Thus I have unintentionally set the very world askew on it’s very axis. Or at least the very world of my 300 wedding guests – who now must choose between the people they love the most in the world (dem Tigers) and my family.
I don’t envy their decision, as we are planning to blow it out in New Orleans. We are commencing at The Cathedral in Jaxson Square with a beautiful religious ceremony, immediately followed by a Second Line to the reception on a terrace overlooking the mighty Mississippi with 3 open bars, two oyster bars, all the New Orleans cuisine you can imagine, 2 jazz bands, and hand-rolled cigars – just to mention a little of the allure.
What we will NOT be featuring is a television set playing the game.
While acknowledging the enormity of the conundrum I have created for all my LSU Tiger loving friends and family, I wasn’t terribly concerned and continued merrily and ignorantly planning our big day, unaware that a perfect storm was brewing each and every Saturday as big games were being played and won/lost by specific teams.
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, (living in my football free widow bubble) the stakes have been raised even higher.
After spending the past decade disappointing and upsetting my late husband – raising his hopes, only to dash his dreams – it seems his beloved tigers have picked this post-mortem year to be good.
It has just come to my attention that Alabama is ranked number 1 and LSU is ranked number 2.
This is the stuff baby piglets dreams are made of. Forget all that hogwash from Charlotte’s Web. (Pun intended) South of the Mason-Dixon line, in SEC territory, baby pigs dream that they may live and die one day to present their very hides to be skinned and laced up and tossed around in a game of this magnitude.
Why just yesterday, ESPN (never a network to be dramatic about the importance of any sporting event) called this November 9th match-up, “The game of the century!”
And here I was thinking I was planning “the wedding of the century” for a little girl whose Daddy won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. (A day he and I talked about and dreamed of since we glimpsed the very first sonogram image of her.)
In an effort to explain to me the significance of my faux pas, which I evidently wasn’t fully grasping, a dear friend said, “You just don’t understand how passionately folks from Louisiana feel about their football!”
“Oh, Mais Non, Mon Cherie!” I met my husband at 17, dated him at 18, married him at 21. LSU Football was the very backdrop of my marriage. I was fully indoctrinated, baptized in the bayou waters of LSU football devotion Why, it’s a right of passage down there.
To illustrate, I will share a classic Jimmy Blanchard story. It will bring a smile of recognition to all of you who knew and loved him well and will help y’all who didn’t know him, appreciate the man he was.
The year was 2007. The day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 23. Per the usual, the men stayed home to watch the traditional LSU VS ARKANSAS football game (remember we had lived in Little Rock 3 separate times with Steak and Ale and Outback, so there was no shortage of phone calls, texts and trash talking from friends and former employees. To put it bluntly, the stakes were high, as our pride was on the line – it wasn’t a matter of whether we’d beat Arkansas, just by how many points.
All the ladies went Christmas shopping that day every year with the little girls and the men claimed they “babysat” their own sons. Truth: this was the beginning of the boys’ football fandom brainwashing program. (In the South, you start em young.)
As we had a long drive ahead of us that night and Jimmy wanted to get on the road to Oklahoma the very second his Tigers kicked those razorback’s bristled hides, the sisters-in-law and I quietly arrived back to the homestead with our purchases about midway through the 4th quarter and started packing the minivan.
But something was very wrong…like Phil Collins said, “You could feel it in the air that night...”
Smoke was coming out of Jimmy’s ears. The boys were biting their nails and near tears and Jimmy, his mother and brother may well have already been crying. I’m not at liberty to say. Let’s just say you could cut the air with a knife.
I started corralling kids as fast and quietly as a mother can corral 5 children. I insisted the girls all potty and strap into the car. The game went into triple overtime while my daughters waited like sweet little angels in the car. This situation didn’t jive well with our travel plans, but Jimmy never budged from the couch.
You never heard so much Purgatorial howling, wailing and gnashing of teeth in your life. You would’ve thought the CIA was waterboarding someone in there.
In summary, LSU lost the game in triple overtime to Arkansas. Jimmy got behind the wheel. I warned the kids not to utter a sound. If you’ve ever met a Blanchard, you know we always utter sounds. But they didn’t. It’s like they innately understood the depth of their father’s deep despair.
We drove through the darkness of the swamp, the Morganza Spillway, over the herons, the alligators and God only knows what other swamp creatures. When I say not a creature was stirring, I mean nothing made a peep.
After about an hour and a half, Jimmy finally broke the silence. He said to our sons. (Aka: My baby boys)
“Well boys, we now have absolutely nothing left to live for…”
That’s when this Ginger Snapped. I lit into that man like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t remember my exact words but it was something to the effect of,
“Our little boys back there have their entire lives ahead of them and EVERYTHING to live for. For the love of God and mankind, they’re 10 and 7 years old! You may think YOU have nothing to live for, which is pretty ludicrous, but don’t you dare cast that dismal outlook on my sons. They’ve got extremely bright futures!” Something to that effect…
(Keep this between us, but I was thinking – they’ve never even kissed a girl or had a beer. Geez.)
The rest of the story – and I’ll include a link- is that I was right. Some unforeseeable madness occurred and all the top teams ended up with incredible upsets propelling LSU back into the National championship game against Ohio State.
The picture I included is the day they posted the rankings and Jimmy and the boys realized that LSU was going to the National Playoff Game and they did have what they call in Louisiana, “raison de vivre,” (reason to live!)
That’s Jimmy’s “raison de vivre,” facial expression in that picture. I’m not sure many of y’all got to see it. Y’all mostly got his poker face. But as I tell this story, it occurs to me, he never did tell me I was right when I lit into him that night crossing the swamp. The night he forcasted my sons’ dismal futures.
My baby boys got to witness a genuine football miracle that year. It taught them that all things in life are possible (and also that sometimes Mommy is right and Daddy is wrong…shhhhhh).
Dem Tigers went on to beat Ohio state 38-34.
So my boys actually had that to live for. And now, they have this year and November 9th. That’s the night they will stand in for their Daddy and walk their beautiful beloved sister down the aisle and happily miss ESPN’s “Game of the Century!”
They will do that because every single day they honor the man that made them men. And all kidding aside…the man that raised these two men….he always knew what to live for.
There seem to be two kinds of families in the world. The kind that call their members by their given Christian names, and another kind of family that names you something adequate for the purpose of the Birth Certificate and then proceeds to call you by a myriad of random names that may or may not have any relevance to who and/or what you are.
Our family falls into the latter category. In fact, we have nicknames for our nicknames.
The name Emilie morphed over time to “Millie,” then “Lillie” and eventually, “Lillie Pad.” There was the occasional leap from the “Lillie Pad” to “Zillie” (for “Bridezilla”) the year she was wed. She didn’t really deserve it, but we couldn’t resist.
Mollie became “Yaya” when the boys starting jabbering around the turn-of-the-century. Apparently, it’s Greek for Grandmother – Mollie is neither Greek nor a Grandmother, but somehow her little brothers saw her that way and it stuck.
Gracie became “Pooshka Lou” as a baby, which was shortened to just “Lou” as a little girl and then lengthened to “Lou-cifer” during a few rough patches in her teens.
James is “June Bug” and Tommy is also “June Bug.” Eventually, in the interest of clarification, Jimmy started to call Tommy, “June Bug, Jr.” At some point, he simply started calling both boys “June,” short for both “Junior” and “June Bug” and we remained as confused as ever.
Jimmy called me “Tiny Red” which I tolerated, but just as often called me “Patricia” which is not my middle name, a family name, the name of an ex-girlfriend, or even a name that I’m particularly fond of…
So, it was understandable when Emilie first started dating Matt, that she asked him what his family called him. He answered,
“They call me Matt!”
“Well, of course, but what’s your nickname?”
“I guess it’s Matt!”
She persisted in her questioning.
Eventually he lit up and said, “On yeahhhhh.…Sometimes they call me Matthew!”
Shortly thereafter, per family custom, we took it upon ourselves to combine the only two things we knew about the guy (that he grew up on a farm and was also a doctor) into the most obvious moniker, “Dr. Farmer.”
Mortified, Emilie beseeched us repeatedly to only refer to him as “Matt.” She even went so far as to threaten that if anyone in our family (siblings OR parents) ever refers to him as, “Dr. Farmer” in his presence or within earshot, we would never lay eyes on the two of them again.
Less than two years later, Emilie and Dr. Farmer were engaged and we got down to the business of planning their wedding. When Gracie asked if she could make a toast at the wedding, I thought it was a great idea. My initial feeling was that the Father-of-The-Bride, was a man of few words, so it couldn’t hurt to subsidize his remarks with a few loving thoughts from the Bride’s baby sister..
It didn’t occur to me to be overly concerned about the theme or content of her proposed speech. A day or two before the wedding, bogged down in last minute wedding details, I asked her if she had jotted down some notes for her toast, she responded,
“I’m having a busy week at school, I’m planning to wing it…”
Much to the amusement of our guests that evening, Gracie commandeered the mic and launched into an expose’ of our family’s penchant for nicknaming, not just one-another, but all of our daughters’ boyfriends. She then proceeded to provide a few examples, such as “Dot-Dot-Dot Boy” (a young man who followed all his texts with “…” )as though his every thought was utterly profound. And, “Coffee Shop Boy,” (who couldn’t seem to make it through a simple date with one of our daughters without a strong jolt of caffeine.)
As I sat listening to Gracie’s toast, I suddenly realized one major wedding detail I had overlooked. I had neglected to exercise editorial censorship over the “toasts.” I suddenly knew exactly where this speech was headed. With what I hoped was an adoring maternal smile plastered on my face, I waited anxiously for Gracie to drop the proverbial hammer.
And then she did exactly just that. Gracie-style!
She shared with 200 friends (our side) and another 200 Prospective friends (Groom’s side) that he may be “Matt“ to all of them, but, to us, “He will always be our Dr. Farmer!”
As Gracie wrapped up her speech, I noticed the wedding guests, (particularly our brand new in-laws) howling with laughter, and so I began to relax. After all, it really was quite an accomplishment that we managed to restrain ourselves for the full two years of their courtship. We made it all the way to the other side of the alter without a slip-up.
Now post-wedding, there’s really nothing left for us to do, but sit around and wait on all the Baby Doctors and Baby Farmers, pondering what we may be inspired to call them.
One thing we know for sure is that we will NEVER call those Little Darlins by their given names…
The wedding planning has been a blessed and welcomed distraction.
I should probably be embarrassed by how many hours I can spend online obsessing over every detail. But, I’m not. Nothing is too minor. The napkins, the florals, the invitations. It’s all a distracting creative outlet.
I’m breezing through my checklist with very few glitches.
I can’t seem to settle on a MOB dress. For those of you not immersed in wedding-speak, that’s the abbreviation for Mother-of-the-Bride…I’m not joining the Mafia. But if I was, I’d definitely launch a full-on quest for the perfect outfit.
It’s not my goal to “Outshine The Bride,” as people are so fond of saying. She’s a beautiful girl in her twenties – so I’d be hard-pressed to manage that. At this point I’m just trying to look like we share the same DNA.
But what I have managed to do is annoy Her Brideliness. She asked me the other day,
“Have you ever seen the movie, “27 Dresses?”
When I told her I had, she quipped,
“That character in the movie is YOU, except instead of 27 Bridesmaids dresses, you have 27 Mother-of-the-Bride dresses!”
Well at least I can rest assured we share the same DNA, as she has clearly inherited my penchant for exaggeration and embellishment. I definitely don’t have 27 dresses. But I have purchased several and I’m still on the hunt.
I guess, as I get older, I realize that one doesn’t have as many opportunities as one might imagine to wear an evening gown. This is my last daughter and who knows how many Galas I’ll be invited to moving forward.
Perhaps it’s a little bothersome to Gracie that I continue to inundate her with screenshots of dresses I’m finding online. I’m just after her opinion, not judgement.
Yes of course I am aware that she just started her new job this week and is fully immersed in their training program. But surely she gets a few short potty breaks and can check her phone?
She doesn’t even have to type out a text response. Just heart ❤️ the images of gowns she favors.
She must’ve gotten a lunch break yesterday, because around mid-day, she shot me these hurtful little bubbles:
Ouch…was I just Slit-shamed?
I’m apparently dancing all over her last nerve. Burlesque? Seriously? I’m not trying to look “burlesquey,” but if I was…what better place than a French Quarter wedding to dabble in that lost art?
I remember shopping with my mother for her Grandmother-of-the-Bride gown before my oldest daughter’s wedding. Doris spent more on her entire ensemble than we spent on the bride’s – and mom didn’t even wear a veil ! I happened to make mention of that fact as she was handing her credit card over to the clerk at Neimans. Without batting an eye, she looked over at me and said,
“Then bury me in it!”
Sadly, 2 short years later, I did just that.
But, my mom didn’t really have the advantage of shopping from her bathtub. She was way too nervous to give out her credit card information online.
I don’t have that problem. Ask Amazon, Etsy, PayPal et al. They’ll vouch for how fearless I am.
That’s why I’m not ready to commit to being buried in whatever dress I eventually select for this event. I can obviously lie right here until I take my last breath and choose something even more suitable and au courant.
And with all the advantages of overnight shipping, I’m sure anything I pick out will arrive in time for when I finally make my way to the Pearly Gates.
Hmmm…something pearl-encrusted in white or cream to go with the whole “Pearly Gates vibe?”
Unless I’m not destined for heaven…if I end up headed the other direction I’ll be requiring one of y’all to overnight the red one with the slit.
Don’t worry – I’ll send you a screenshot and the link.
I’ve learned quite a bit since my husband died. All sorts of handy skills and life-hacks to help maintain the house and finances. But mostly I’ve stumbled across philosophical truths. It’s exciting to think that one day I might be wise.
I might even start a “Widow Boot Camp” or become a “Widoula!” I’m convinced my girlfriends will need my guidance some day. (Sorry Dudes – statistical probability!)
There are just so many falsehoods surrounding grief and loss.
For starters, I believe we all think the major life events are the days Grief Survivors will circle the drain, spiraling into the depths of their own despair.
I can tell. Because my phone blows up with all manner of genuinely loving texts.***
“Thinking of you today. Hope you have a fabulous Mother’s Day…”
“Happy Anniversary. You were both so blessed to have one another for the short time you did…”
“Merry Christmas! Hope you are surrounded by your children today…”
They also reach out on Easter, his birthday, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. They take me to lunch or brunch to convey their compassion and remind me they are “here for me.”
The first birthday I had after I lost my hubby, several of my friends organized a brunch. About midway through the meal, one of my friends signaled everyone to hold up their Mimosas while she made a toast to the Birthday Girl.
“To the best year ever!”
Clink, clink, clink!
Clinks all around.
As I was clinking, and drinking, I was also thinking…
I seriously doubted I was about to experience my Best Year Ever. But I was equally convinced it probably couldn’t be worse than the preceding year.
Or could it?
I’ve now come to believe the second year of loss might actually be worse than the first. Remember how right after you had a baby or surgery, you sat up in your hospital bed and evaluated your overall pain experience? Most of us thought, ‘There now, that wasn’t so awful! I’m pretty Bad-Ass. I survived!’ You congratulated yourself with a pat on the back – reassured by your own bravery and resiliency.
Until the anesthesia wore off.
No longer numb, you panicked and started scrambling around, wincing in pain , looking for that little button on the bed-remote that has a nurse icon on it.
Likewise, the major holidays aren’t really what triggers the panic.
Quite frankly, my husband wasn’t all that stellar on the Big Days. As a young wife, I genuinely had to learn to manage my expectations. This was partly due to the fact that he was in the restaurant business. He was swamped in the weeks that led up to Christmas and exhausted by the actual day. Ditto our anniversary (one week before Christmas), New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentines Day. Same, same, same.
To be fair, some of his lackluster-ness, might also be attributed to the general stress the “important days” put on all of our relationships. There’s a lot of pressure to make them memorable.
But my husband instinctively knew his way around this problem. He made up for it on the minor days and in the little moments. The forgettable ones. The ones we take for granted.
In fact, he used to give a short speech to his young managers, whereby he acknowledged that their business wasn’t easy on marriage and family. Most of them would always work on weekends and holidays, so they better make up for it on their next day off. Make the little days count.
Like next Tuesday.
As time went on, we dubbed the iconic speech, “Any Given Tuesday.”
Now, it’s the minor days and seemingly insignificant life-moments that really get to me. I tend to be somewhat prepared for the big holidays. Typically, I am armed with scripture, inspiring quotes, and a supportive posse.
But the other day, I was in a restaurant trying to decide between the Rueben and the French Dip, I missed my hubby so much it didn’t matter what I ordered. All I could remember was him telling me, “Order your top two choices for both of us and we’ll share!”
A few weeks ago, Luke donned a cowboy hat and Emilie said, “Who are you Luke?” And he buoyantly answered, “Papa!” He didn’t mean Jimmy. He meant his other grandfather. He will never know Jimmy. And I could’ve never anticipated that level of heart-shred.
This week Luke has finally decided to call me by name. I took him to the park and installed him in a baby swing. He pointed to the swing beside him and barked out an order:
For a second I thought he wanted me to lie down in the park bark. (Which I was perfectly willing to do!) But then I realized it was his best attempt at calling me, “Lady!” Immediately I looked expectantly up to the heavens for my husband and my mom.
“Did y’all hear that?”
”Isn’t he so terribly clever?”
“Isn’t he brilliant?”
“That’s your legacy! He’s calling me by name!”
We learn so much as we muddle through life and loss. Maybe by the time we pass on we are almost complete. Perfect and wise. Maybe it takes longer for some of us than others. Maybe that’s why some die young. I’m still pondering it…
I’ll let everyone know when I’ve got it all down and ready to start a workshop.
But for now, in honor of all my lost loves, I spend my Tuesdays with Luke. Trying to make those little days count.
***texters and well-wishers: Don’t Stop sending that love!
“Do you think other families have a Yellow Thing?” I asked my daughter yesterday morning after an exasperating 2 hour search to locate her invisible plastic retainer…
I think the technical/official name for our “Yellow Thing” is Mail Organizer. Here’s a quick run-down of everything it contains besides mail:
-a Christmas snow globe ink pen
-Many non-holiday-specific ink pens
-20+ paper clips
-A smalł black and white picture of my mother taken in 1944
-A ton of business cards (hint: if we use your business, we’ve saved you to our phones)
-a tube of dried-out super glue
-Screws of various sizes
-Cough drops of various flavors
-A pacifier (probably needs to be sterilized before inserted into baby?)
-enough loose change to pay for a semester at OU
-A brochure for lasik surgery
-A picture of my oldest son, age 3
-A random garage door opener
-Several flash drives undoubtedly carrying Classified State Secrets
-Some folded papers from our local high school delineating procedures we’ve never followed
But, perhaps the most unique thing I fished out of The Yellow Thing was from just a few days ago. I showed Tommy a wet wad of paper I pulled out of his jeans’ pocket, as I was transferring his laundry from the washer to the dryer.
“Man! I hope this paper wasn’t important!”
Peeling the soggy layers apart and examining it forensically, he assurred me it was indeed important. It was a record of his “Service Hours.” Without it, he could never prove he’d done any good in the world. By way of consolation, he said he thought his teacher might give him another. But added,
“Save it though, in case she doesn’t believe me!”
I promptly put it in a ziploc bag and (naturally) placed it in The Yellow Thing…
Our Yellow Thing is an integral and essential part of our family life. Someone in my family is always looking for something, so we would be lost without it. Or rather, without it, we wouldn’t know where to begin to start looking for whatever it is we’ve misplaced.
It sits proudly in a position of prestige on our kitchen counter right as you walk in our door. It’s the first thing you see. Right by our house phone that hasn’t rung in 6 years.
On the counter by the phone sit several pair of scratched sunglasses, regular prescription glasses my son actually uses to see, spare reading glasses for me. Alongside the eyewear are all of our car keys.
So you clearly get the picture. This area is the de facto Business Center of our household. A hub of miscellaneous necessities.
All day, every day for years, my children have shouted,
“Mom, have you seen my _________?”
To which I invariably yell back,
“Check in The Yellow Thing!”
…because that is where I płace all indecipherables that I think could potentially be relevant to someone at some point in the near future. It’s either premature to throw them away, or I can’t identify the object, so it might be important. Or I’m too lazy to put it in a more suitable place.
So back to our search for the missing retainer….
We did a precursory skim across the surface of The Yellow Thing (afterall, we’ve found retainers for all 5 kids in there before). But after a quick glance, it didn’t turn it up, so we proceeded to look in other possible locations.
As time ticked by and we had seemingly exhausted all reasonable search areas, I would occasionally find myself meandering back to The Yellow Thing, with renewed hope, shifting the contents around more assertively.
Finally, as Gracie was replacing all the cushions on our couch, I said,
“There’s really nothing left to do… but…”
In a panicky voice, she quickly tried to intercept me,
“DO NOT DUMP OUT THE YELLOW THING!”
I had already turned it upside down. Hair ties, batteries, coins and car wash tokens were rolling the length of our kitchen island.
“Found it!” she shouted, waving something I couldn’t see triumphantly from across the den.
She had spotted it on the white furry rug under our coffee table. Perfectly camouflaged among the shaggy fibers, where it must’ve fallen.
Hence the name Invisalign.
But now I felt compelled to rifle through the gutted, sprawled-out contents of The Yellow Thing in a half-hearted orgazational effort. I tossed a lot, as you might imagine. But then, feeling somewhat liberated, I merely stuffed ALL the papers back in there for some other day.
I mean, you never know when I might decide I need LASIK and it’ll be good to have that pamphlet handy. I also resolved to start giving “Yellow Things” as wedding gifts to newly married young couples.
Obviously, it’s the only way to efficiently run a family.
“Did anyone invite us to their beach house for Labor Day?” my youngest daughter inquired casually, upon realizing that we were facing down a long 3 day weekend.
“Someone’s lovely lake home, perhaps?”
It was The Trifecta of Un–Invited. Anywhere. But it was ok, I assured her. We could go make our own fun. I suggested we make a hotel reservation in Kansas City, where we could honor laborers, all the while shopping and dining.
She was in.
And I was MORE than IN. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with hotels. I just love them. The plushy robes, the tiny shower gels, their adorable cousins – the miniature body lotions.
Naturally, I’m wild about ROOM SERVICE AND HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING.
I love hotels so much that I had Gracie and her friend do some quick calculations while we were there. I wanted to know how long I could live at The Raphael if I just sold my house and used the proceeds to pay the daily rate…
But mostly what I love about hotels are the swimming pools.
I actually judge a hotel by it’s pool. When all the other adults make a reservation and look at the accommodations, location and thread counts, I’m scrolling through the picture galłery assessing the pool.
Which is a bit silly honestly, because I have a pool here at home. But, no matter. I crave variety in my swimming options.
One of my earliest memories was at a MOTEL. I’m not sure why they’re distinguished from hotels, but I think it’s because our Pontiac got to stay nearby, like a cherished family pet.
It was the 70s and my family was in Washington DC seeing the sights. I vaguely recollect monuments and impressive buildings, but like most kids, what I really remembered was the pool. It was the summer I learned how to jump off a diving board.
I stood at the edge of the board looking down – trying to quash my nerves. It had to be at least a 2 or 3 foot drop. But I screwed up my courage and took the flying leap.
It was all good except for the part where one’s little body sinks in the DEEP END. The part of the pool our mothers had always warned us to steer clear of.
You sink, sink, sink. And then the first chance you have, you kick yourself back up to break the surface. It seems like an eternity before you are reunited with air. And you can breathe.
I loved the entire sensation except the sinking. People talk a lot about life’s ups and downs. I find I’m more of an up person. The down part really sucks.
So my little-girl-self came up with a solution. I would just jump to the side. Per my plan – as I jumped, I would lunge for the side of the pool. The concrete, if you will.
The next thing I remember, I was facing the bright light of the emergency room and getting stitches.
I still have the scar on my chin. It’s a bit of a reminder.
No matter how creative you are, you really can’t get around the downs. They’re a part of life. So we just cling to the belief that buoyancy will haul us back up. Eventually.
We had a great time in K.C. It ended better than my D.C. weekend.
But – I never went for a swim because, as it turns out, The Raphael doesn’t even have a pool. So we came back.
As proactive and creative as I thought my plan was, it probably wasn’t in my best interest to be homeless in 12 years anyway.
“You wanna know what’s wrong with You?”
If those aren’t the very words every single individual longs to hear from their spouse, I don’t know what are.
And it hasn’t even been a year since you spoke those very words to me. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear your assessment of what was “wrong with me.”
And I knew you were about to tell me…
But first you had to fill me in on what I’ve now come to refer to as “The Reservoir Theory.”
“Everyone is born with a reservoir of kindness,” you proffered. “A set amount.”
Hmmm…I thought to myself. This is going to be good. “Do continue, I’m just dying to hear this,” I enthused.
“Your problem is that you went around depleting your reservoir way too early in life,” you explained. “But I, on the other hand, held on to mine all those years you were out wasting yours. And that’s why I’m such a nice guy now and you’re, well…”
“…not as nice as you used to be!”
And then you elaborated a bit more, claiming that I went around in our 20s and 30s wantonly giving my kindness away, while you were far more discerning. According to you, I was nice to a fault, while you held on to your kindness. Contained and retained so to speak. You paced yourself so you would have plenty left over for the latter years.
I decided to mull that one over for a while. And then, eventually, with the general hectic-ness of everyday life (and death), I eventually forgot all about that conversation.
But I’ve had occasion to think about it more lately. I’m not 100% convinced you were holding back.
Because as the months tick away, I’ve come to fully realize how many lives you touched in your short time here.
Your employees send me pictures, thoughts and prayers. They go out of their way to visit the spot where you were killed. Several of them have even organized a golf tournament in an effort to honor your legacy of giving.
One of the Event Organizers confessed to me recently that your death “inspired him” more than his own dad’s.
Lately, I’ve had to start meeting with men like Auto Mechanics, Financial Advisors and the like that you used to do business with. It’s crazy how many of them have teared up while telling me basically the same story: That you “set them straight” about something early in the relationship and how much they loved and respected you from then on…
(On a totally irrelevant side note: how come when I “set a person straight,” they never want to have anything to do with me, yet when you did it, people seemed to love you ever-more?)
It’s also come to light that more than a few of my friends had gigantic crushes on you. They’ve leaked it and it doesn’t even make me mad. I totally get it. I had a gigantic crush on you too.
A lot of our kids’ friends have told us what a positive impact you had on them during their formative years.
I must admit, my initial reaction when you said, “You know what’s wrong with You?” was that the next words out of your mouth better be…
But now, with all the wisdom of hindsight, I’m so glad you shared your Reservoir Theory with me so I can share it with the world.
There now – wasn’t that nice of me?
When we moved back to Oklahoma, we were technically still in our 30s. We were 39 – it was the month before we both turned 40.
We had produced all 5 of our kids by then, with quite the age spread- ranging from 16 down to 2.
There was certainly a wide demographic of potential friends to choose from in our area, but for some reason the women I clicked with were the mothers of our youngest kids, so most of our friends were around 5 years our junior. Not necessarily in chronological years, mostly in “parent-age*”
*You can calculate your “Parent–age” roughly the same way you calculate your dog’s age. 1:7 ratio – So oftentimes it seemed like we were 35 years ahead of our peers.
For starters, you and I were the only ones with teenagers – most of our friends’ children were pre-schoolers. That fact alone created a deep and wide chasm in the vast topography of our child-rearing experience.
But it didn’t prevent us from spending endless hours with those novices-in-training. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we formed a tribe.
We spent long leisurely afternoons at the park watching the kids play; we were the first families to open the neighborhood pool on Memorial Day Weekend and they had to kick us all out on Labor Day – reluctantly dragging our towels, floaties, ice chests and whiners.
But, we made our worlds a bit brighter every Friday afternoon when we took turns hosting “Happy Hour” on one patio or another.
I remember how mortified we were when our little ones would shout their goodbyes to one another in the Catholic school carpool pick-up line,
“Bye!! SEE YOU IN A LITTLE BIT AT HAPPY HOUR!!!”
Their merry salutations often caught the ear of a few of the more conservative parents, the Principal, a couple of teachers and the occasional Priest who happened by.
Most of the time I relished my role as the Senior Mom, but there were times I caught a little flak from our friends when our sassy teens were around, but I didn’t mind too much. First time mommies are a judgey lot.
It’s okay. I still cringe when I recall some of the ridiculous parenting views I held in my twenties. For example, my opinion on “diaper covers” for baby girls:
“I don’t know why people even bother having a baby if they aren’t going to dress it properly.” (A very immature Ginger snapped in 1987)
The grim reality of parenting quickly straightened my priorities out, didn’t it? 14 years later our sons were lucky if they had a diaper on at all They ran around like MOWGLI in A JUNGLE BOOK, barely wearing a loin cloth.
So, I certainly had it coming back to me in spades. I deserved what I got alł those years later when I was surrounded by my posse of “first-timers.” They had a front row seat to the happenings of Everything-Blanchard and could frequently be heard gasping in horror at all the atrocious things our teenaged daughters dished out.
Do you remember the Friday night I was fussing at one of the girls as she was heading out for the evening and she said, “Hey can you put the rest of that lecture in a text, you’re gonna make me late!” (Complete with the universal hand signal for texting – wriggling her thumbs in a mock-texting motion.)
The collective intake of air from my friends was so audible I’m surprised no one inhaled a bug.
As you and I attempted to conceal our amusement and just shake our heads at the clever irreverence of the Common American Teen.
We had simply moved on into the ‘choose your battles stage,’ while our friends were still basking in that innocent adoration stage. “You’re the bestest Mommy in the whole wide world!” – those halcyon days of sweetness they mistakenly thought would never end.
But end they did.
Right about the time we experienced our daughters turning into beautiful and accomplished young women, ever-so-kind, intelligent and respectful, everyone else’s kids (including our younger ones) morphed into surly teens…
And there went the neighborhood.
It was an all-out roller coaster ride from then on. The ones that seemed easy to raise turned out to be a tad more difficult than anticipated. The ones that seemed more challenging at first turned out to be easier than expected. But everyone kept right on parenting.
We all slugged it out in the trenches together.
And then, remarkably, all those creatures transformed into tolerable human beings. And, eventually into incredible adults. It’s amazing how that happens.
But, I must admit, we both secretly enjoyed mocking the audible gasp at our friends’ teenagers’ misadventures and antics through the years.
Now you’ve left us all behind to rest on our proverbial laurels and wait on the grandchildren. In our spare time, our friends sit around pondering the next generation and debating whether we want them to be “sweet and adorable” or “naughty as Hell!”
I’ll never forget the day you and I coined the term, “Revenge Grand-parenting!” We were all for it. It was no secret what camp we were in.
In a recent fit of maternal frustration, I blurted out to one of our friends,
“I hope my grandchildren are the brattiest brats that ever crawl across the face of God’s Green Earth!”
She almost choked to death on a lovely merlot.
MISERY…all she ever wanted was a wee bit of company…
Editor’s Note: Re-posting this in honor of my friend who showed up for work today after the 4th of July holiday with a hickey on her neck. God Bless America. Go get those hickeys while you still can ladies.
When people say, “You’ll laugh at this one day!” they’re usually right…
There are many things that I viewed as utter tragedies at the time of occurrence, that I eventually found humorous down the road.
Way down the road.
But, it’s hard to laugh when you are still cringing. Last Sunday morning, while my husband and I were sipping our coffee, he looked at me quizzically –
“What’s that on your neck?”
“What?” I replied, mildly concerned.
“Turn your head to the side”
“What??” I was growing increasingly concerned.
“What???” Now full-on frantic.
I got up, looked in the mirror, tilted my head to…
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