Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I'll trade you that Snickers for these Dum Dums

I think Iggy Pop said it best. "Candy, Candy, Candy, I can't let you go! All my life, you're haunting me. I love you so!"

                                                    Has anyone ever seen Iggy Pop in a shirt?

Halloween is a candy lovers dream. (Or nightmare, if you are trying to eat clean.) Imagine Halloween night in a house with six kids. Crazy! When the kids get home from Trick-or-Treating, we have them dump their candy into a pile. Like our parents did and their parents before them, we look through the loot for signs of razor blades, needle tracks and pre-licked suckers. With the amount of kids we're dealing with here, it kind of ends up looking like a gluttonous free for all is about to take place, or like Willy Wonka had a going out of business sale. Or like a candy store exploded. All this to say, we end up with a shit-load of candy. I'm sorry, but that is the unit of measurement that best describes the haul these guys bring in.

When the kids were all younger and before Anna was even born, things were handled in a much different way than they are now. We would pile up the candy, search through it looking for the bad guy tricks, then let them ogle it for a while. They would paw through it, sort the candy into piles by brand, then eat a few small pieces before brushing their teeth and going to bed. Then we would put all of the candy into a community bowl, up on the fridge to be doled out by mom or dad,a couple of pieces a day. Eventually, Christmas would roll around and I'd use some of the Hershey kisses and chocolates for stocking-stuffers. (Hey, they didn't care if the foil on their chocolate kiss was red and green or brown and orange!) Finally, tired of looking at the big bowl which contained mostly bubble gum, Smarties and those nasty orange and black wrapped peanut butter taffy things, I would dump it in the garbage. Then I would refill the bowl with their Christmas stocking candy, which would last until the Easter candy arrived. The great circle of candy bowl life.

As they grew older and a little wiser, they started to guard their candy stash like it was gold straight out of Fort Knox. No more community candy bowl. No way! They each kept their own stash in a bag, hidden away from the looters. Trading would begin with all the savvy of a Wall Street power lunch. The older kids would smugly walk away with Reece's cups traded for Lick 'em Sticks. Mike would have to beg and plead for the miniature Clark bars. This was serious business!

Now, they are more settled in their candy preferences. Most of the candy goes to work with Mike for his graduate students while the kids hang on to a few good pieces. I even started using the community bowl again last year. Mike is offered the Clark bars without a second thought. It has become a kinder, gentler evening. Anna is allowed carte blanche over her stash; too old to be conned out of the good stuff yet young enough to want to keep it all.

This year, we will trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. We will pass out candy to our neighbor kids and have taco salad. The down side to this story is that we aren't costume prepared, but that will take care of itself. We get most creative under pressure. This morning Clare said she thought she might put on a couple of coats and go as a coat rack. I've seen worse costumes.

Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We came, we saw, we sat on the rock...

Fall is a great time of year around here. Finally, a break from the heat! It is also a crazy busy time. Basketball practice for two, Nutcracker rehearsals for two, travel days for Mike, dance classes, drum line practices, homework, projects due,  football games, school activities, church activities...sometimes the "to do" list reads like a short story. A really boring short story. When activities ramp up, attention to the minutia of day to day life can sometimes falter. Laundry gets backed up, dinner prep can be rushed so frozen convenience foods are thawed, dust accumulates, the last milk jug empties and frustration heightens.

Mike woke up one morning and proclaimed the upcoming weekend a family weekend. Cancel all plans, apologize to all activity coordinators and get on board. With plans for activities set aside, we dressed for a fall hike. We were blessed with a beautiful day; sunny and cool with a bright blue sky. We piled in the van, pleased to all be in the same place at the same time, and headed out of the suburbs.

One of our favorite day trip getaways is Woolaroc. Woolaroc is located in the Osage Hills of Northeastern Oklahoma, about 45 miles outside of Tulsa. It was first established as ranch retreat for oilman Frank Phillips in the 1920's. The land is a wildlife preserve, home to an assortment of exotic and native animals. There is also a museum filled with Native American artifacts and western art. When the kids were younger, they called it the Cowboys and Indians Museum. As you enter the preserve, you stay in your car and drive through the acreage on a narrow road. There are some artifacts along the way, and animals grazing in the prairie grass. Sometimes when we drive through, we may see a deer or two, but on this day, we saw lots of animals. There were longhorns, deer, antelope and some other deer looking animals that I couldn't identify. We also encountered herds of buffalo. There were a few of them grazing right along the road and they are HUGE and a little intimidating up close. I wanted to take a few pictures and rolled down the window. I admit I was a little hesitant, but they lumbered along without giving us a second glance. I'll tell you who is an asshole, though. That stupid ostrich. I think it's the same one we have been looking at for years. He/she is aggressive and nasty. Lucky for us, he/she is behind a wire fence. He/she would like to peck our eyes out, I am sure of that!

We didn't stay very long in the museum this trip. We've been there so many times that the kids anticipated and talked about each display before we reached it. I did see something new this time, though. Someone donated a signature given to them by Geronimo. A handwritten note accompanied the signature saying Geronimo wrote his name starting with the "o" and went backwards from right to left. He was said to be very pleased with his ability to write. It looked like a small child's handwriting. My favorite collection at the museum is the Pioneer Women sculptures. There are twelve in all. They were commissioned and exhibited in 1927. My favorite is called "Fearless". Ever since the first time I saw them, I have been struck by the interpretation of the frontier woman's plight. Their names speak for them well. "Confidence", "Heroic", "Challenging", Affectionate", "Fearless", "Faithful" and "Trusting" are among the models.

The beautiful weather called to us, and we headed out to the trails. The hills and prairie of this part of Oklahoma are rocky. The trail isn't too difficult, but one must be sure footed and careful to not trip over the rocks.There are caves nestled into the hillsides that were notorious hideouts for outlaws. It is easy to imagine the life of a Native American when in the woods and a little creepy imagining the bad guys in their rock caves. There is a big rock at the trail's beginning point that we like to gather the kids upon for a picture. As we were wrapping up our latest "sit on the rock" photo shoot, hunger set in. We high tailed it out of there in search of the nearest cheeseburger. We opted out of the $5 each buffalo burgers and rode into town for a $1 each Sonic burger. Have you ever noticed that after a hike in the fresh, crisp air, is when cheeseburgers taste their best?

The ride home was amazing. I had a belly full of burger, we smelled like "outside", Mozart was playing on the radio, no one was bickering and I slept.
Dominic's new friend.

And now we are back to regular programming. The weekend is already planned with busy activities sending us far afield from one another. It's good to have busy kids. I love watching them do the things they enjoy. I admit I sometimes get tired of being the taxi service, but that's just what we do. With all of the schedules pulling us in different directions, I'm glad we took the time to stop, gather together and sit on top of a big rock.

Rock it

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It Takes a Village

For most of our grade school years and beyond, my brother and I were latchkey kids. Our mom was a single, working mother. She worked for the State of Illinois in a 9 to 5 job and sometimes worked evenings as a bartender or cocktail waitress. As time went on, she also added part time student to her resume.

I'm going to insert here, though it has nothing to do with this story, that not a single band concert or local drum corps show was ever missed by my busy mom. In fact, both of my parents were always present at these things and more, always sitting together like friends. I was never, ever put in the awkward position of choosing which parent to invite to events because they made the decision to set aside their differences and be there for my brother and I. We will always be thankful for that.

Our dad had weekend visitation and we spent most of our weekends with him in Taylorville, a pleasant, small, central Illinois town about 25 miles South of Springfield.  He lived in Taylorville for many years and later in Springfield. Taylorville was also home to my Granny, aunts, uncles and cousins. I loved being there. My cousin, Denise, and I are the same age and we more often than not would have sleepovers at either Granny's or Aunt Kathy's. My brother and my cousin "Bang" were great friends, also. It was a fun childhood. I sometimes wondered what my life would have been like if my parents never divorced and I was able to grow up in that town, surrounded by family. I prayed and hoped that it would happen, that my parents would miraculously reunite and that I could have the life I thought I was meant to have. It wasn't in the cards, though. Winter weekdays were busy. We had school and friends and then weekends with Dad. Summers were rough, though. Mom and Dad both worked full time jobs and that left my brother and I to entertain ourselves in those hours that we would otherwise have been occupied in school. There were quite a few school friends in our neighborhood, though. We could form halfway decent sized baseball teams and play ball in the empty lot that was between our apartment complex and the houses on the street. There was a small grove of trees big enough for hide and seek and a few failed attempts at building a club house. That grove of trees was also a grave site for more than a couple of hamsters and gerbils.

Among the neighborhood kids were two girls my age named Jackie and Brenna. They were my very best friends and we played Barbie's, watched bad television, walked to the dime store and bought penny candy and tried to re-create the entire movie, The Wizard of Oz. This was before VCR's, y'all! It was a labor of love! Sometimes we played Ding-Dong-Ditch 'em until we were caught and scolded for that venture. Let's not talk about that. Jackie's parents belonged to The Olympic Club, the local swim club. During the hot days of summer, they went to the pool for at least a couple of hours every day. Jackie's mom invited me to go every time. It was a great feeling. I felt like I belonged to that pool, too. It was so much fun. I can still remember the silly games we played in the water and buying Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at the snack bar. What seemed like a small kindness to them, dragging me along to the pool every day, was HUGE to me. As a child, I am sure I never was able to express my gratitude sufficiently, but recently I was reunited with Jackie via Facebook  and was able to thank both her and her mom. I let them know that I will never forget them and their kindness and how now, as a mom, I try to go out of my way to include a kid or two in our activities. I feel like I'm paying it forward in a small way.

I was talking to my mom one day several years ago, and we were laughing at some of the things we did as kids that she knew about but we didn't know she knew and about some of the things she never knew we did. (that was a hard sentence to follow!) She told me that we didn't know it, but she had asked a couple of the neighbors to keep an eye on us while she was at work. I can't imagine how it must have been, leaving us like that and hoping we kept ourselves out of trouble. I think she must have been a nervous wreck!

Things don't always work out the way we hope, but they work out the way they should. It always helps me to remember that. It helps to realize that there are so many people in my life that never would have been there if things had gone the way I wished and prayed for at that time. And I wouldn't be who I am today.

(I held off posting this in hopes of adding a couple of photos...but I can't find the ones I want. When I find them, I'll add them.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fear and Loathing

I don't think people give single moms enough credit. Maybe it's just in the sheltered bubble of South Tulsa where being a single mom is a rare thing, but I hear a lot more praise directed toward married moms who work at home or outside of the home. While I think it's great that society appreciates the efforts of stay-at-home moms now more than ever before, I think we still could use some work at supporting the unbelievably difficult job of the working single mom. This isn't a post about the "Mommy Wars", the ongoing debate about who has it worse, the working mom or the stay-at-home mom. It is more of a preface to the story I am going to tell that involves my own mother, who was a single, working mom in the '70's and '80's. It isn't easy now but I am sure it was even harder then.

My parents were divorced when I was very young. I have some very vague memories of the time that my parents were married to each other. Some of the memories are my own that have a dream like quality to them. Other memories are the kind that you develop after hearing often told tales. They are mostly memories of good things or common, everyday things, like the memory of chewing on artificial grapes, making them stick to the inside of my cheek with suction or of being in the basement of the house that we lived in and that I can no longer envision. The first couple of years that my brother and I lived with just my mom are pretty much void of memory. I guess that means nothing traumatic happened, except for the time I pooped in my pants in kindergarten and the nuns who were our teachers were threatening to check everyone's pants to see who did it since no one had the nerve to admit to stinking up the joint. I sat in my soiled undies, shaking with the fear of being caught. As luck would have it, the end of the day bell rang before my pants were checked and I went home, ashamed yet relieved at having not been caught. In retrospect, I have been a teacher and a mom for over half my life now, and I can always tell who has the stinky pants. I'm sure the Sisters had to know it was me. I won't even try to understand why I was spared public ridicule, but I am thankful.

My mom remarried when I was in 2nd grade. The guy she married made her happy at first. I think he probably seemed like he wanted to be a family man and he was modern and cool. My mom was a young woman in the early 70's. She grew up quiet and shy in a very small farm community in central Illinois with an abusive and old fashioned father. She had been married to my father in another small town, going straight from high school into the life of a stay-at-home mom. And now she had the opportunity to have some fun and feel like she was a part of the exciting changes going on in the world, especially for women. She was able to work, be a mom and have the security that being married brings. I'm not sure when things started to get bad. I was pretty young and the details aren't clear, but I know we went from living in a nice little house to living in a small apartment. Eventually, my mom found herself living with her two young kids and an alcoholic. A mean drunk who wasn't so interested in being a family man after all. He scared the hell out of me. He was loud and tall. He kicked and hit walls and doors and threatened my mom. I don't remember ever feeling any affection for him so there was no big disappointment when he turned ugly, but I remember waking up in the night hearing him shouting at my mom and feeling a new feeling. Hatred. I shook with it. I'm not sure if I shook more with rage or fear.

My mom has always had a knack for decorating and even in our smallish apartment, she came up with cute ideas to organize and ways to make our things look nice. One of the things she did was to turn a long, double sliding door closet into a kind of storage area. She put in shelves and had a neat little space set aside for him to keep his things. I was quite a reader and read whatever I could get my hands on. I was intrigued because up on a top shelf, way out of my reach, were some of his books. One in particular caught my eye. I wanted to read it. I asked him if I could see it. "Which book?" he wondered. "That one.", I pointed. "To Kill a Mockingbird." But I had misread the title. I was still  phonetically sounding out words but by then was also decoding using familiar words. I thought the book was called "Tequila Mockingbird". Oh, man, did he laugh about that. He thought it was adorable. I remember feeling really embarrassed about it, once I realized my mistake.  I felt ashamed. At the time, I didn't understand why I felt ashamed, but I guess being a child and being familiar with the name of that sort of drink was a bit more than I was comfortable with. He didn't even let me see the book.

It wasn't long after that time that my mom had him leave. I know how hard she tried to work it out with him, but his problems were more than she could deal with, especially while trying to protect us. It was a sad time in our lives, but eventually we had a nice, quiet life again. Things work out the way they are supposed to, I guess. If it weren't for him and the way things ended up, I would never have had some of the people in my life that helped make me the person I am today. My next post will tell a story of some of those people.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, October 22, 2012

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

I have always thought misheard song lyrics were funny. Some are universal, like in the Jimmy Henrix song  "Purple Haze". He sings 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky. Folks from all over thought he was expressing a desire to kiss some dude. And in their song "Bad Moon Risin'" , Credence Clearwater Revival were famously thought to have been pointing out that there's a bathroom on the right .   Here is a list of the 100 funniest misheard lyrics, according to a random survey. Most of the misheard lyrics on that list are dumb. Click here for arguably the best misheard song ever.

And then there are the lyrics that you, your friends or family may mishear . When I was student teaching, I had the opportunity to live with my Granny. My cousin Denise was also living there at that time. Denise was getting ready to be married and I was looking forward to college graduation. We, like most young women do when a major life change involving photography and crowds are involved, decided to go on a diet and start an exercise regimen together. We were products of the times, and seeing as it was the mid-eighties, we had in our possession a Jane Fonda Workout video tape. For some reason I didn't understand at the time, our Granny would enjoy coming to the living room to watch us awkwardly roll around on the floor exercise. (It must have been a sight to see; better than television.) Sometimes we would pass on the Jane Fonda and instead play music to do crunches, lunges or whatever half-assed thing we were doing. One time, after a rousing bout of leg lifts to the thumping beat of Eddie Murphy's 'one hit wonder' song, "Party All the Time", our Granny shook her head in shame. She thought that the song was vulgar because instead of hearing my girl likes to party all the time, party all the time, party all the tiiiime, she thought the lyrics were my girl like to POTTY all the time.... That was so funny, and totally changed the way I heard the song from then on. Then there was the time that my Aunt Kathy, caught up in road-to-the-Rose Bowl hype, thought the horrible 80's band Quiet Riot was rocking out an homage to the University of Illinois football team with the song "Cum on Feel the Noize". She thought it was Come on Illinois!. Be sure to enunciate the usually silent "s" in Illinois while singing this one! I am ashamed to admit that for years I would play the Ben Fold's break up anthem, "Song for the Dumped" in front of my kids. I was careful to always turn the volume down when he said the word bitch, but sadly I had misheard the part where he screams the "f" word. You see, I thought he was yelling Well forget you!. He wasn't. It was pointed out to me by Stephen, who was about 10 at the time. He asked me why I made sure to turn down the volume for the "b" word but not the "f" word. Oopsie. More recently, one of Anna's friends belted out the lyrics I am a doodie head in place of I am titanium in this song. You have to admit, you can hear it, especially with a car load of girls singing it that way (loudly) on the way home from ballet class.

Sometimes it is embarrassing to belt out the wrong lyrics, but it is always funny. Almost as funny as listening to your friend sing along to a song while she is wearing headphones and hearing her stumble incoherently across a phrase she isn't sure of. Of course, I have never done that. Ahem.

In my next blog entry, I will tell the story of a book title I mangled in second grade. A misread title, I guess you could call it.

Thank you for reading!