Batshit Crazy

About a year ago, I published My Mirror Lies to Me, my third collection of funny stories and musings on life in my little corner of rural Michigan. In one chapter,  I talked about the time my husband, his brother,  and my father encountered some bats while working on our house.

I was reminded of that story this week, when workers discovered a mummified bat within the walls of that same house twenty-odd years later. Let that sink in for a minute.

They found a mummified bat within the walls of my house.

Seriously, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to other people, does it?

At any rate, Mr. Mummy Bat’s unexpected appearance made me want to share the other bat story. So here is a short peek inside a chapter of My Mirror Lies to Me. I hope you enjoy it!

Batshit Crazy

A few years ago, blueberries became the big trend worldwide. Everyone, it seems, has been singing the praises of those little buggers for their health benefits and anti-oxidant properties.

Yeah, I could have told them that. I live right in the middle of “Blueberry Country.” Between the sandy soil, the moist air along the lakeshore, and the short but intense summers, this part of the world was made for growing blueberries.

I grew up here. I’ve gone blueberry picking every summer, although I’d probably owe a small fortune to those farmers if they ever got smart enough to put my chunky ass on a scale before and after an hour in the field. I freely admit that I put twice as many in my belly as I put in the bucket, and so do my kids. If I take them picking later on in the afternoon, I can usually get away with not having to make dinner that day.

Here in Blueberry Country, we put blueberries in everything. Blueberry muffins. Blueberry waffles with blueberry syrup. Blueberry wine. Even blueberry bratwursts, for God’s sake. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing as tasty as a handful of fresh blueberries on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

They are delicious, but I really don’t understand how anyone absorbs any kind of health benefits from eating them. It’s not like we actually digest them. They come out in the same condition they go in. Better, in some cases. I’m afraid to even glance down at the toilet during blueberry season because I know I’m going to start worrying about the fact that I remember chewing those berries that are now floating whole in the bowl.

It’s like stomach acids have some sort of restorative properties when it comes to blueberries.

This doesn’t just happen to humans, either. The birds around here begin dropping bright purple grenades during blueberry season. Cars, laundry on clotheslines, slow-moving pets — nothing is safe.

Just to go off a tangent for a moment here, I’d like to share something that makes me unique.

I have been hit by seagull poop at least once every summer of my life.

Every.

Single.

Summer.

That’s fifty-one summers of seagull shit, people. Granted, I don’t remember the first few shitbombs, but family members tell me that the streak started early in my life.

And it’s not just a Michigan thing. One year, I went camping in Virginia with a friend and a seagull crapped on me at the campground. In Virginia. It’s like they have a secret seagull messaging system to make sure I get hit no matter where I go.

I even got nailed by one as I left work last night. At night. Birds don’t fly at night. That particular seagull must have been perched on the lightpost outside the hotel for hours, just waiting to complete its mission.

And yes, I know for a fact that most birds don’t fly at night. I learned that in the early days of my marriage, when the Big Guy and I sat in our backyard sharing a romantic moment under the stars. “Look at the pretty night birds over by the porch light,” I sighed, blissfully ignorant about my new life in the country.

“Birds don’t fly at night,” he told me. “Those are bats.”

Birds may not fly at night, but I sure did that night. I flew up the steps and through the door so fast that I’m pretty sure my feet never touched the ground.

I’ve learned since then that bats are truly wonderful creatures. They are complex animals with amazing talents, and they do so much to help control the insect population. Bats are not inherently a bad thing.

But they don’t belong in my house.

During our first few summers there, we were under constant bat attack. A bat can slip through the tiniest of openings, and our house was an old, old farmhouse that we were renovating, so there were many tiny openings. And big openings, for that matter. We seemed to have a bat or two flapping its way through the living room at least once a week every summer.

At one point, the Big Guy ventured up into the attic and discovered that it was Bat Central up there. I was one hundred percent in favor of abandoning the house and moving back into the city, but he swore he could take care of them. “We just need to figure out where they’re getting in, and then seal it up,” he told me.

True to his word, he gathered up a few friends and family members to stand in a loose circle around the house at dusk one night. As the sky grew darker, bats began to leave the cozy home they had made for themselves in our house. There was a narrow crack between the siding and the chimney, and that turned out to be a bit of a bat on-ramp.

He counted well over one hundred bats flying out through that crack.  When he thought they were all gone, he climbed a ladder and sprayed insulation foam into the entire crack to prevent them from coming back into our house in the morning. Later, he made a more lasting repair to the opening and solved the problem once and for all.

However, that left the problem of an attic full of bat poop. You can call it guano if you’d like, and rave about its wonderful properties as a fertilizer. But when it’s in my home, I’m going to call it what it is: shit. Bat shit. Nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

We had an attic full of it.

Unfortunately, not all of the bats left the house that night, so the problem sort of came to a head when the Big Guy rounded up his little brother and my father to help him while I was at work a few days later. It’s important to note here that the “little brother” is a ridiculously tall individual who makes the Big Guy seem more like a Medium Guy when they’re together. So I’m just going to refer to him as the Bigger Guy from here on out.

They didn’t tell anyone their plans for the day, probably because they knew I would have insisted on a few more safety precautions than they liked to use. I only figured it out because my mother-in-law was one of my clients that day, and she mentioned that she thought “the boys” were on their way to play tennis because they had stopped by her house that morning to borrow some tennis racquets.

Neither one of them plays tennis.

A tennis racquet is, however, the perfect defensive weapon when dealing with bats.

It wasn’t until years later that the Big Guy told me what actually transpired that day. Those three great big men went upstairs to begin ripping out the second floor ceilings to start the upstairs renovations. They took the tennis racquets to defend themselves against any remaining bats.

Apparently, none of them realized just how much batshit there really was in the attic. When they started ripping things apart, it began an ugly chain reaction that none of them would ever forget.

Along with the hundreds of pounds of batshit, the attic was also full of old bricks from some long-forgotten project started by the previous owner. Guano-covered bricks and boards began raining down, first on the Bigger Guy’s head and then on all three of them as the hole above them widened.

None of them had thought to wear any kind of hat or helmet, of course, or gloves. And I guess real men don’t wear masks, not even when dealing with hundreds of pounds of nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

They were covered with it. They breathed it in. It went into their eyes and ears and most likely other bodily orifices that I don’t want to think about. The two brothers leaned on each other, choking and gagging and gasping for air, tennis racquets forgotten in their hands as a few angry, homeless bats flapped around their heads.

My dad, however, stood a few feet away, staring at the guano on his arms with a calculating look in his eyes.

“You know,” he mused, “people would pay a lot of money for this stuff.”

“No,” the Big Guy told him. “We are not selling batshit from my attic. And we are never, ever telling anyone about this. No one. Not even Amy.”

“Especially not Amy,” the Bigger Guy agreed. “She’ll move out if she hears about this.”

“Just seems like sort of a gift from Mother Nature, you know?” my dad persisted. “Guano is worth a lot of money as fertilizer, and you’ve sure got a lot of it.”

“Batshit is not a gift, Dean,” the Big Guy said firmly.

He finally told me the whole story just before my father’s funeral a few years later. It was, he insisted, one of his favorite memories of Dad.

It made me feel good, too, in a way, because it made me realize that I’m luckier than my father  even though we both shared the same knack for being hit with bird poop. I may get nailed with wads of smelly, slimy, warm seagull shit every summer of my life, but I think I can say with all certainty that I will probably never share his experience of being buried under tons of guano.

Or, as I prefer to call it, nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

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Six Months

Six months.

It’s been six months since I’ve posted here. Six months since I’ve written anything, to be totally honest. Six months since I’ve even been able to locate all the parts of the computer in order to set it up and even try to write.

Six months since the Big Guy died.

A lot has happened in those six months.

Like anyone who passes away so suddenly, so unexpectedly, he left behind a lot of unfinished business. It’s been an avalanche of cleaning up, signing off, sorting through and a whole lot of asking, “what the hell was he thinking here?”

A big part of that “unfinished business” was my fault as well. Ahem. Confession time.

The Big Guy and I never actually finalized our divorce. Oh, we filed. We split up and divided our belongings and set up a shared custody arrangement, complete with child support and all that stuff. But we never actually went before a judge and wrapped things up. We postponed the original hearing date and then the filing expired and we just never got around to re-filing.

It didn’t seem necessary. We both kept what seemed fair and we were better parents as a team that didn’t live under the same roof, so it seemed sort of silly to involve courts and judges and legalese when everything was going so smoothly without all of that.

And then he got sick.

Suddenly, there were decisions to be made and documents to be signed and a lot of hurt feelings all the way around as people in our lives realized that he and I were, in fact, still married. Only on paper, but definitely still married as far as hospitals and funeral homes and finances were concerned.

At the time of his death, my name was still on the deed to the house we once shared. When we split, we didn’t fight over the house; it was his, plain and simple. I didn’t want it because it was his dream home, not mine. He loved the country, the acreage, the trees, the ramshackle old farmhouse that he could repair and renovate and love.

And now it’s mine, as are the cats, the dog, and apparently a snake as well, although I’m still in serious denial about the snake.

I couldn’t bring the animals back to the apartment and I couldn’t abandon them, obviously. And I couldn’t afford to pay both the rent on the apartment and the mortgage on the house, so I cancelled my lease, put my belongings in storage, and moved back into the house I had left four years earlier.

Totally pissed off some folks by doing that.

Over the past six months, I’ve tried to clean out his house and prepare it for sale so I could move into something smaller, less expensive, and closer to civilization. It’s been overwhelming, to say the least. It’s as if the universe has lined up to throw obstacle after obstacle into my way.

I believe it’s what the Big Guy would have referred to as a Cluster Fuck, or at the very least, a Goat Rodeo.

The kids and I had a “family meeting” about a month ago and came to a decision: I’m staying. Rather than investing in a new house, I’m going to fix up this one. I’m going to keep their childhood home, and I’ve hired people to do the work that the Big Guy never got a chance to finish.

So.

Here I sit, at my husband’s old desk, wrapped in an afghan made for him by his great-aunt. Drinking coffee made in the coffeepot I gave him for Christmas a few years ago. There’s a huge eight-point buck’s head mounted on the wall above me, staring at me reproachfully, while three cats and a stressed-out Blue Heeler chase each other around my feet.

I really hope the snake isn’t down there with them, but I’m too afraid to look.

This is not the life the Big Guy and I imagined when we bought this house all those years ago. It’s definitely not what I imagined when I packed up my belongings and left the house behind four years ago. But it is what it is, and I am doing my best to make this home something he would have approved of.

Minus the snake, of course. If I ever find it.

I unpacked the computer and asked my son to set it up for me. I located my favorite coffee mug. I’ve opened up documents that have been gathering virtual dust for six months, and I’m on my way back to my little town of Serenity to get back to work.

I think I’m heading in the right direction, and I have a feeling the next part of my journey is going to be every bit as crazy, convoluted and downright strange as the last part was.

All I can do is fasten my seatbelt and hang on for dear life.

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I Don’t Know How To Do This

Four years ago, I wrote a post that began with the words “I don’t know how to do this.” My husband and I had just split up, and I was agonizing over my new reality of being a single mom. I was mourning the loss of a marriage that we had both hoped would last forever, and I was terrified.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. My ex, whom I’ve often referred to here as The Big Guy, never truly allowed me to struggle as a single mom.  He was always a great dad; I don’t think I ever realized that until weren’t together any more. As strange as it may seem, we became better co-parents when we stopped being spouses.

We also became better friends. Over the past four years, we’ve had more conversations and shared more “inside jokes” than we ever did during our eighteen years under the same roof.

Today, I have to repeat myself, because Heaven has gained an angel in Carhartts and faded flannel.

I don’t know how  to do this.

Last week, we lost The Big Guy to complications of the flu. The Flu! How can anything so ridiculous possibly be real? He used to drive a race car, for God’s sake. He was a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade. This was a man who used to take chances and risks that would make my blood run cold, but would just laugh at me when I told him to be careful.

I don’t know how to do this.

My children have had to grow up over the past two weeks in a way that no parent wants to witness. Because The Big Guy and I were no longer together, responsibilities and decisions fell upon the shoulders of his oldest child, our twenty year-old daughter. I’ve said for years that she is more of an adult than I am, and she has stepped up and proved me right by displaying a level of maturity that makes me ache for her.

The nineteen year-old has also grown in so many ways. He is mourning,  of course,  but he is doing so with his father’s trademark sense of humor. My quiet, sarcastic little boy has become a warm and nurturing man who looks out for all of us and always finds a way to make us smile with some funny memory of his dad.

And our baby. Rooster turned ten just a few days after losing his father. He has cried so much that I’ve worried he might get sick. But each time, he finishes crying and then moves on to laughter or a quick  game of basketball while sharing stories about his daddy. He’s hurting, but  he’s adapting.

They are grieving, but they are grieving as a unit. The three of them are so close that I know, deep down, that I have nothing to fear for them. They’re going to be okay because they have each other. Well, each other and their father’s strength,  humor, and courage.

But I don’t know how to do this

I’m not talking about being a single mom. I can figure that part out, especially since the older two are here to help me. If I’m going to be completely honest, I know my daughter will probably continue to run the show with more maturity than I will ever have. Things are going to be rocky for a while, and there will be a tremendous learning curve, but we’ll get through.

No, I don’t know how I’m going to move on without The Big Guy. He was my ex; we hadn’t been a couple for more than four years. But he was my friend. We still talked almost every day. We had inside jokes and a shared history that spanned more than twenty years. We created three people together– three amazing, beautiful, incredible people who made us both so much better than either one of  us ever were on our own.

He had a girlfriend who never left his side during those final days in the hospital. His family referred to her as “the love of his life,” and I believe they were right. He was so very happy with her, happy in a way he never was with me, that I couldn’t hold that against her. During the time they were together, she was good to our kids and always treated me with respect, so I truly, genuinely like her.

Crazy, huh?

My heart is breaking for her. So few people in life actually find real love, but I believe she and The Big Guy truly did. As much as I am hurting right now,  I know her pain is even deeper.

And I am hurting. I’ve lost my friend. I’ve lost the father of my children. I’ve lost a person who was a significant part of my life for more than half my time here on Earth.

I’ve lost my Big Guy.  My crooked-toothed, flannel-wearing, warm-hearted Big Guy. And somehow, incredibly, life is going to have to go on as though the world hasn’t just lost a truly good  human being.

I just don’t know how to do this.

Never Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll

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I have reached a new stage in life, and I’ve got to be honest: it’s really pissing me off.

I can deal with the “Everything pops or creaks when I bend over” stage, as well as the “I need a nap every day” stage.  Even the “Why did I come into this room” phase is tolerable.  But folks, this stage is intolerable.

I have now entered the “Today’s music sucks” portion of life.

I always swore I would never be that mom. You know the one. The one who tells her kids to turn down their music because it’s just not as good as the music from her generation. The one who takes over control of the car radio because she just can’t understand the garbage today’s kids listen to.

Yeah, I’m there.

I am the youngest of three kids, and I remember when my two older sisters sat me down sometime in the mid 1970’s and informed me that I was not a normal teenager because I still enjoyed John Denver. They would line up a stack of records on the record player, one after another, and hand me album covers and lyric sheets to study while I listened.

To digress for just a moment, if you are too young to understand the concept of a stack of records or don’t know what a record player is, just walk away now. There just aren’t words sufficient to describe the finesse involved in stacking just enough albums but not too many, and making sure that the quarter taped to the needle arm was in just the right place to prevent skipping.

And no, I am just not pretentious enough to say vinyl and turntable. They were albums and record players, damn it. Sure, kids today have an easier time downloading music off the internet, but that simply can’t compare to the experience of strolling up to Murphy’s Five-and-Dime on a Saturday morning to plunk down my allowance for a handful of forty-fives with their cheap plastic inserts that made them fit on a regular record player.

All it takes is a few notes from “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” or “Nights in White Satin” to take me back to those days, sprawled out on the bottom bunk in my sisters’ basement bedroom at two in the morning, listening to music and gazing at album covers while we hoped that mom really was a very heavy sleeper upstairs.

I’m not confessing to anything here, but there may or may not have been a few questionable substances consumed during those late-night listening sessions. Frankly, it was all too long ago to remember all the details. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I got older, they would quiz me on music trivia, turning on me at random moments to demand things like,  “Who is the drummer for Cheap Trick?” “How many famous musicians died by choking on their own vomit in 1980?” “Who did the artwork on the inside of ‘Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die’?” (For the record: Bun E. Carlos, three, and Dave Gibbons.)

I was in high school before I dared to step away from my sisters’ opinions and started forming my own. My friend Kathy introduced me to songs from this little-known garage band out of Athens, Georgia, and my mind was blown. Couldn’t really understand a word that Michael Stipe sang, but that didn’t stop me from wearing out my homemade casssete of REM’s Chronic Town EP in a matter of months.

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Kathy was also responsible for making me aware of The Replacements, The Jazz Butcher, Peter Case, The dB’s, Robyn Hitchcock, and oh, so many more.

That was music, man. Music that evoked an emotion, that took up residence in my brain and in my soul. Music that still sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night with stray lyrics running through my mind, keeping me awake until I can remember who sang it and why it was important to me.

And in the morning after one of those nights, I’m left sitting here with my morning coffee, lost in the soundtrack of my life as I wonder whatever happened to that girl who used to know every word to “Bastards of Young”  and “King of Birds.”

She got old; that’s what happened to her.  She became that mom.

But she finally understands what Jethro Tull was singing about:

No, you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll
If you’re too young to die

Rock on, y’all.

 

Love or Money

Several years ago, I was faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to accept a new job that didn’t exactly line up with some of my beliefs and ethics.  We were struggling for money and the pay offered by the new employer was great. Beyond great, actually. Sort of an answer to our prayers.

But something about it didn’t feel right.

I asked my then-husband what he thought. “They aren’t breaking any laws,” I told him. “Technically, they aren’t really doing anything wrong. Would it be wrong to work for them?”

“If you have to ask that question, then you already know the answer,” he said.

We may be divorced now, but I’ll always be the first to admit that he can be a very wise man. I turned down the job offer and we went back to struggling financially and cursing my minimum-wage job. But I’ve never regretted that decision.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about his words of wisdom because of something going on in the writing community. Specifically, within the self-publishing area of the writing community.

Before I dive into that, I want to explain to some of my non-writer friends out there that most writers engage in a never-ending debate about “writing for love” versus “writing for money.”  Those in the “love” camp are the kind of artistes who can be heard saying things like, “I write what I love, what’s in my heart, and if no one ever reads it … well, at least I’ll die knowing I was true to myself.”

Those in the “money” camp are quick to counter with, “I want to earn a living with this, no matter what it takes.”

For the record, I’ve always considered myself pretty firmly lodged halfway between the two camps, where I want to write what I love, but I also really want to make a living with it. I’ve never believed the two are mutually exclusive, and so I’ve been bumping along with a sale here and an award there, just hoping to earn a little more than I spend each month on marketing. Hoping that soon, I’m finally going to write that book that pushes me up to the next level.

In the meantime, I fritter away far too much time at a place called KBoards Writers’ Cafe. It’s a forum where my fellow writers gather to share ideas about writing and publishing. Most of the authors there are way out of my league; they are the type of professionals who have reached a level I don’t even dare dream of. And yet the majority of them are the type of professionals who are also willing to share a little of what they’ve learned, constantly reaching out to offer advice and guidance to piddly little nobodies like me.

In recent days, there have been some really eye-opening conversations at the ol’ Writers’ Cafe. And I’ve come away feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and … well, doomed to obscurity.

A man came into the forum and freely admitted that he publishes under a number of pen names and uses ghostwriters to churn out multiple books each month. Okay, nothing too bad so far. I find it a bit distasteful, but not horrible.

But the kicker is that he uses female pen-names and then pretends to be a woman in order to connect with his female readers. On a personal level. As in, discussing things like sex, orgasms, virginity, etc. with his fans, encouraging them to open up because he is, after all, one of them. Just one of the girls.

Under another pen name, he pretends to be a gay man so fans of his homosexual romances will trust him and chat with him.

Under yet another, he is a black woman gleaning information from trusting readers who enjoy his multicultural novels.

The list goes on and on. And although the majority of KBoards authors were quick to denounce him, a significant number stepped up to say that they see nothing wrong with what he is doing. After all, they argued, he’s not breaking any laws. He’s not hurting anyone. Besides, his readers and fans should know better than to share personal information with someone on the internet, right?

He’s successful, and isn’t that all that matters?

Well, yeah, but …

It’s paying off for him, and for others like him, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands, if he is to be believed. He and his group of friends have books that dominate the bestseller lists, so obviously it’s working.

I’ve learned a lot since I started self-publishing four years ago, but I think these past few days have been the most educational of all. His posts have inspired some intense discussions that have left my mind reeling. In addition to his creepy deception (yup, I’m gonna go there and call it creepy), he’s also shared information about  buying circles and mega-marketing groups that work together to push each other’s books up the charts by throwing huge sums of money around in order make even more money.

In the debate between writing for love or writing for money, these people are leaving the “love” writers in the dust.

It’s becoming clear to me that one little ol’ writer, sitting at my computer in a tiny town in Michigan, is never going to be able to compete with that.

I’ve got to admit, I haven’t done much writing over the past few days.  I’ve been terribly discouraged, and I’ve wondered if maybe I’ve just been fooling myself this whole time. Yeah, I thought about giving up.

And then I thought about that age-old debate between writing for love versus writing for money, and I realized that I’m no longer lodged halfway between the two camps. I finally know what kind of writer I am: I write for love. Plain and simple.

I write because I want to tell stories and entertain people. I write because I’ve always written; I write because I’m a writer. It’s not who I am. It’s what I am.

I write because I’m not happy if I don’t write.

I’m not giving up; I’m just shifting my goals a little bit. Changing my focus. I’ll keep on writing my books — and enjoying myself — and I’ll keep publishing them because it’s fun. It makes me happy, and it makes a little bit of money. And I accept that it’s probably never going to earn me a fortune.

I’m okay with that now.

Because, basically, it all comes down to this: If I think about being the other kind of writer, a writer like the man who challenged my viewpoint this week, I’d have to ask myself, “Is it really wrong?”

And if I have to ask that question, I already know the answer.

 

 

 

Balance

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d have to start by apologizing for the mess. I’ve got laundry everywhere and dirty dishes piled up so high that we may have to drink our coffee out of wine glasses. Or take turns slurping directly from the pot. Your choice.

It’s been one of those weeks again. Obviously. I can’t figure out exactly what it is that keeps me so busy, but lately I feel like I live in a whirlwind of constant activity and obligation. Got to be there, do that, pick up this, drop off that.

I just learned that a friend of mine has written a book called Balance for the Hurried Woman. Well, I really wish that woman would hurry up and publish it already! I need this book. I need balance in my life.

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I should know by now that every time my life gets overwhelming like this, something happens that gives me a harsh dose of perspective.

This is a small community. Everyone knows everyone else. For example, there’s a woman I know who has a daughter one grade ahead of my son, and we pass each other every day at pick-up time. Our paths have crossed several times over the years, and while we’re both friendly to each other, I wouldn’t really say that we are friends.

One day this this week, I noticed that she was wearing a pretty green scarf wrapped around her head. Nothing unusual, really; she’s got a knack for accessorizing, so I assumed it was a fashion choice.

A few minutes of casual chit chat while we waited for our kids, and I realized that it had nothing to do with fashion.

I hate cancer.

I don’t understand how she can just go on with life as though nothing is wrong. Well, I do understand, in a way. That’s the way life goes; got to be here, do that, pick up this, drop off that. The world doesn’t stop just because one person is terrified or overwhelmed.

Still, I don’t know if I would be able to go through the motions if I were the one facing chemotherapy. I think I’d be in a helpless heap of fear on the kitchen floor.

After I talked to her that day, I went home and tried to tune out the sound of my son’s voice begging me to play a game with him. “I have to finish the dishes first,” I told him. “And there’s laundry to do and the place is a mess.”

And then I thought about the woman with the pretty green scarf.

I sat down and lost two games of backgammon but won a round of Yahtzee by three points. I also learned that I will never beat that child at Hide & Seek in this apartment because the only place I can hide my big ol’ self is in the bathtub behind the shower curtain, and he’s smart enough to always look there first.

Look, I know the dishes and laundry still have to be done, and I understand that there are people out there who have figured out how to balance their responsibilities while still having fun with their kids. I’m just not one of those people, I guess.

Funny thing, balance. I loved gymnastics as a kid, and my favorite part of every class was the balance beam. Some people were afraid of falling off the beam, but I wasn’t. I knew it was exactly four inches wide and sturdy and perfectly straight, and I would be fine as long I didn’t look down, as long as I kept my head up and my eyes focused on a point ahead of me.

I knew I’d be okay as long as I had faith in what was beneath my feet.

I’ll get back there, eventually. I’ll find my balance in life, as long as I keep my head up and eyes focused on a point ahead of me.

In the meantime, I’ve still got to be here, do that, pick up this, drop off that. But those things are all just going to have to wait if my son wants to play backgammon or if I see a scarf-wearing neighbor in need of a friend.

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This post is part of Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli. Please check out some of the other posts on this theme!

The Question

 

I should have seen it coming.

It’s basically a rite of passage that nearly every child must face, and my son is, after all, a very smart fourth-grader. Besides, he’s my third child; I’ve done this twice before and I should have been better prepared.

This time, it hurt. Maybe it’s because he’s my baby, my last little one, my late-in-life “bonus” child. Or maybe it’s because I’m just older and more emotional now than I was ten years ago when his siblings asked The Question.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. They never really asked. They just sort of figured it out and made the transition without any kind of trauma or fallout. I guess I expected it to go just as smoothly this time around.

Yesterday, my little Rooster looked at me with those great big blue eyes that are impossible to lie to, and he asked me in his direct way, “Mom, do you believe in Santa?”

I wish he’d asked me if Santa is real. That would have been easier to answer.

santa
Ah, the good old days!

 

 

Do I believe in Santa?

I was eight years old when I asked my mom for the truth. She wasn’t always a great mother, but she had a few moments of brilliance, and that was one of them. I remember how she explained to me that Santa is indeed real. Not as a jolly fat man in a red suit, she explained, but in the spirit of giving to others. He’s real in our hearts as long as we keep him alive in the joy of Christmas morning, in the happiness that comes with believing in something that we can’t see or touch or prove. As long as we believe in magic.

I realize now that she borrowed pretty heavily from Francis Church’s 1897 editorial assuring a little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but it did the job. I felt so grown up when she trusted me with the truth, and even more so when she woke me up at midnight to help her put the presents under the tree. It’s one of my best Christmas memories.

So I would have known how to answer my son if he had asked me if Santa is real. I like to think I would have been just as helpful (if unoriginal) as Mom was.

But do I believe in Santa?

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! … Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

 

I used to believe. Even as an adult, rushing around to get the gifts and make the food and dress the kids in their holiday best before hurrying off yet to another family gathering with this aunt or that grandma or those aunts and uncles and cousins. In the midst of the whirlwind, I believed.

In Polar Express, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

Oh, the true spirit of Christmas was in my heart!

Christmas is different now for my little Rooster than it was for his brother and sister, who are a decade older. There are fewer family gatherings, and the family that gathers is so much smaller now. The few remaining members of my side of the family tree don’t even get together for holidays any more; my ex-husband’s side has drifted over the years until my youngest barely even knows his cousins.

There have been divorces and remarriages and deaths; children have grown up and moved out and become adults with lives of their own, and something about Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas any more.

It’s just Rooster and me in my little apartment now. I thought about getting a smaller tree this year and not even dragging out the big boxes of ornaments and decorations. After all, it’s not like anyone will actually see any of them. It’s just him and me now. Is it even worth it to haul out the Christmas mugs and the homemade ceramic nativity set? The latch hook toilet cover? The Christmas quilt I sewed for Aunt Marian?

Is it really worth it?

Do I believe in Santa?

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.

— Polar Express

I must have hesitated too long. My little boy crawled under the rocking chair and refused to look at me. “I knew about the Tooth Fairy,” he told me. “And the Easter Bunny. But I wanted to believe in Santa.”

So did I, Sweetheart. So did I. 

“I don’t want to do Christmas this year,” he added.

My heart broke, just a little.

His father arrived shortly after that to pick him up, and we talked about it as a family. A fractured family, perhaps, but still a family. Rooster seemed to perk up a little bit before crawling out of his hiding place. A year ago, he would have curled up on my lap and dried his tears on the front of my shirt; this year, he wants desperately to prove that he is too old for that. A quick hug, and he was out the door before I realized that I had never actually answered him.

Do I believe in Santa?

I don’t know how long I sat there alone, asking myself that question. Long enough for it to get dark outside, dark enough for me to see the Christmas lights in the park in the center of my little town.

The lights reminded me of my family’s tradition of visiting Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park to see the decorations every year. My sisters and I would race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” and slide down the little snowy hill between the Wisemen and their camels. We’d snicker every year about the cracks and chipped paint on the faces of Mary and Joseph before dashing away to gaze in awe at all the lights on the trees — especially the giant Salvation Army tree.

Most of those trees were destroyed with the tornado went through downtown Kalamazoo in 1980. That cheesy old Nativity scene is long gone, and there are no more decorations placed on the snowy hill because it turned out to be an Indian burial mound. It’s the same park, but it’s not the same.

Or is it?

It’s still Christmas. Different trees, different decorations, different ways of celebrating. We can still go to Kalamazoo and race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” or catch a ride on the Holly Jolly Trolley, or we can stay right here in our own town and attend the tree-lighting party in the park, surrounded by our friends and neighbors.

We can make new traditions because it’s still Christmas.

It’s still Christmas, and we have each other, and we have memories, new and old. We still love each other, despite divorce and distance and paths that have taken some of us in different directions. There are moments of sadness, it’s true, but there are moments of joy as well, and it’s up to us to hang on to all of those moments and cherish them for what they are.

Do I believe in Santa?

Absolutely.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

Finally!

Well, after an unexpected delay that I still don’t understand, My Mirror Lies to Me is finally available on Amazon — only nine days later than the date I had promised. Better late than never, right?

Just to give you a little taste, I’m sharing a small sample of my new book. If you enjoy the sample, you can read the rest through Kindle Unlimited or buy it here for only $2.99.

My Mirror Lies to Me

My Aunt Marian always told people that when I was a small child I would wake up from naps, blink a few times, and say, “…and, um–” before launching into a story of some sort.

I’ve always been a talker. A storyteller. Most of my stories are true, or at the very least possess a small kernel of truth somewhere in either the exposition or fine details. What can I say? I like to make people smile. Maybe even make them laugh out loud. If I can make them laugh so hard they pee, that’s just a bonus.

“Amy stories” have prompted a lot of eye-rolling and grimacing over the years, along with polite suggestions that I write them down in a book someday. Suggestions which, let’s be honest, are less about encouraging me to share my tales than about asking me to please, for the love of God, shut up for five minutes.

“I know, Mom,” my kids will groan. “You’ve told this one, like, a thousand times.”

“Is this another one about your aunts? Yes, I’ve heard them all before,” a more polite co-worker might say. “You should really write a book, you know.”

I used to get embarrassed or offended when people said things like that. Now? Now, I just nod and smile and probably tell yet another story, perhaps about a time when I embarrassed myself by talking too much.

Like the time my soft-spoken, very intelligent sister took me to hear one of her favorite authors speak. She is the quintessential big sister, one of the most organized and efficient people I have ever met. On that particular night, she took care of everything, from getting the tickets to arranging a babysitter to driving us to the theater. In return, she asked for only one thing from me.

“Please let me go ahead of you in the line to meet him,” she asked. “Let me talk to him first and get his autograph. Please?”

Of course I agreed. In spirit, anyway. But as my sister, she should have known she was asking the impossible.

Several moments later, we stood at the table, looking down at David Sedaris. And let me just say here that he was an amiable gentleman who seemed to go out of his way to greet his fans in a friendly, conversational manner. He was all about putting us at ease. Just a very normal, ordinary, approachable man.

And luck was on our side that night. Out of all the people in that line, he turned to my sister with a very simple question.

“Where’s a good place around here to go for breakfast?”

She knew the answer. She knew that town inside and out, was familiar with most of the businesses. It was her job to know the answers to questions like that as part of her daily 9-5. She was perhaps the single best person in that room that he could have chosen for that question.

And what did she do?

She went full goldfish on him.

She blinked. She opened her mouth and closed it. And again. She gaped at him and blinked some more.

“Maybe a Denny’s?” he ventured.

Now, I’m told that I behaved in a perfectly composed and normal manner after that, but that’s not how I remember it. I remember shoving my dog-eared copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day in front of him and babbling something about never looking at Great Danes the same way again.

My sister says he laughed. If there’s any truth to that, then I can die happily any time now, content in the knowledge that I once made David Sedaris laugh.

Have you ever shaken up a bottle of Diet Coke and then released the built-up pressure? That’s exactly what happens to my words when I try to hold them inside and behave myself. And it’s what happened that night, standing in front of David Sedaris.

The dam burst. I babbled. I giggled. I chattered like an idiot. Once I start, I don’t have an “off” switch.

Of course, Mr. Sedaris was very gracious about it. I can only assume someone got him some food at some point after we left. I’ll never know for sure, because my sister and I turned and fled, laughing like idiots.

That’s what My Mirror Lies to Me is all about: Finding the “funny” in an otherwise mortifying moment. Looking at myself and seeing only the best that I have to offer to the world. Instead of seeing a double chin or close-set eyes and a mouth that runs too much, I want to see a woman who is capable of always looking for the good where others see flaws.

If I’ve learned anything about life, it’s that it’s too short to waste time dwelling on the negative stuff. I always want to look past the lies my mirror tells me. I want to enjoy telling “Amy stories” that make people laugh. If I can make a few people pee or spray coffee out their noses, then I’ve done my job.

And David Sedaris, if you ever happen to read this book, the Kalamazoo Denny’s is on Cork Street, just off Sprinkle Road near I-94. Tell them A.J. and the Goldfish sent you.

 

 

 

Cover Reveal: My Mirror Lies to Me

I am so excited to be able to announce that my newest book, My Mirror Lies to Me, is on schedule to be released on Friday, September 29. Just to get everyone out there as excited as I am, I want to share the cover with all of you.

White frame on the wall

Isn’t that great? Special thanks to my friend and fellow author Margaret Brazear for creating this fun cover.

This book is the next logical step for me after Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass and Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal. Like those books, it is a collection of humorous essays on life as a middle-aged, overweight, slightly delusional single mother, just trying to keep the focus on the funny side of life.

This time around, there’s a bit more swearing and a lot more exasperation. Maybe even a touch of anger here and there. The Amoeba Squad makes an appearance again, along with The Big Guy, The Princess, The Dark Prince, and Little Man, all of whom have resigned themselves to the fact that I am going to continue mentioning them in my books.

I had an absolute blast writing this one, and I can only hope you all have just as much fun reading it. It’s currently in the hands of an editor and a couple of beta readers, but there just may be a sneak peek or two ready to show off here at some point in the next two weeks before the book is released.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone for all of the support and encouragement that keep me writing.