Taken

When I was nineteen, life handed me my first hard lesson.

His name was Rob. He lived in the apartment below mine in an old house that had been divided into five apartments, and he was everything I wanted in a man. Tall, handsome, and funny, with an interest in all things sci-fi and fantasy. We could talk about comic books, Doctor Who, Monty Python, and this new British writer who was making a splash with something about hitchhiking across the galaxy. We listened to Joe Jackson, REM, and vintage Who; he loved the group Love & Rockets while I  fiercely defended the comic book by the same name.

He was perfect.

He was also taken.

He was one of those college boys with the girlfriend back home, and that meant he was strictly off-limits. No matter what.

I should admit here that I was pretty naive when it came to men. I had a lot of friends who were male, and I could tell a raunchy joke right up there with the best of them, but I’d only had a few boyfriends in high school. And I’d never gone farther than second base with any of them.

My self-confidence was non-existent. I had this mental picture of myself as someone who was too fat and ugly to be desirable, and so I decided that I was going to be okay with being the girl who was every guy’s buddy. The friend. One of the guys. In high school, I never thought I had to worry when I was alone with a group of males because none of them thought of me “that way.”

So that’s the type of relationship I fell into with Rob. We would hang out in his apartment or mine, drinking cheap wine and talking about everything from philosophy to which actor was the best Doctor (I still say Davison, although Rob was a big fan of Tom Baker). We’d read Elfquest and New Mutants together or compare notes on which parts of Restaurant at The End of The Universe were funnier. We even had deep, scientific discussions on the Theory of the Universal 7-11 and how it applied to life in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

It was a great semester. I sold my first article to a real magazine and started working on my first novel with Rob’s encouragement. It was a pretentious little bit of  literary fiction that wanted very badly to be an allegory based on Faustian legends, but it just ended up being very bad. Very very bad. Still, it was a great learning experience.

Even better, no one but Rob ever read it. Really, it was that bad.

We used to go for long walks through the woods and talk some more. He would tell me about his girlfriend, and I would tell him about whatever man I happened to be interested in that week. I never dated any of them, though; there just wasn’t time what with my class load, my writing, and all the time I was spending with Rob.

Who was taken.

Off-limits.

Safe.

“I want to show you the dams,” he told me one April night. It was cold and clear, with a full moon, and we filled the pockets of his battered Army jacket with bottles of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. We giggled and drank and talked as we made our way through the woods to a beautiful little spot where a fast-moving creek rushed over a series of stone dams. It was an isolated little cove, almost magical in the moonlight, and we sat on a ledge for hours, swinging our legs and talking about life.

When he kissed me the first time, I liked it. I admit it. We were a bit tipsy, and he was so cute. And we had become so close, after all. He was perfect, wasn’t he?

By the second kiss, however, I had sobered up enough to know it was wrong. He was taken. Off-limits. He belonged to another woman.

By the third kiss, I realized he wasn’t going to stop no matter how hard I fought.

He was very apologetic afterward and even sent me flowers the next day with a cute card that had a little frowny-face and the words “I’m sorry” pre-printed in puffy blue letters. He knocked on my door a few times over the next few weeks, but I pretended not to be home. Eventually, he stopped trying.

I don’t know where Rob is today, or if he ever married the girl he was with back then. I wonder sometimes if the rape was planned or if he just lost control after too many bottles of Bartles & Jaymes. I wonder if he took other girls to the dams before me or after me, and I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to the police.

I wonder if he realizes now what he did to me, or if he tells himself it was just sex. If he regrets it. I wonder if he even remembers me at all, and if he’s sorry.

I wonder how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t thought I was safe when I was nineteen.

This post has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the sentence starter “When I was nineteen. . . ” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Mimi at Mimi Time and Vidya at Coffee with Mi.

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Sex, Advice, and Small Cars

I didn’t listen to anybody’s advice when I was a kid. About anything. It’s not that I was a rebel or even a know-it-all; I just sort of did things my own way. Usually not so much out of stupidity as a general sense of cluelessness.

My mom used to get terribly frustrated with me. “It’s one thing to follow the beat of a different drummer,” she would sigh, “but you keep wandering off after the tuba player.”

To be perfectly honest, she wasn’t exactly a source of great wisdom when it came to advice. She was a bit of a blurter with very vague definitions of what was appropriate advice to share with impressionable young people, especially in her later years.  I remember one particular conversation that took place when I made the mistake of asking her something about sex. I don’t remember now what the question was or what kind of temporary insanity gave me the brilliant idea of asking her, but I’ll never forget her response.

“The most important thing you need for your first time is a sense of humor,” she advised me. “Because, you know, when your foot is out the window and your head is stuck in the steering wheel and the gearshift is up your ass, there’s really nothing to do but laugh.”

I think I may have passed out at that point, because I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Perhaps my mind has just protected my sanity by blocking it out. But I do remember that bit of advice, and I thought about it again during the course of one eventful evening with an old boyfriend.

I was in my early twenties, and I was in love for the first time. Call me a late bloomer, but I was learning about love and sex and daring all at the same time, and that made for an intelligence-numbing combination.  All Mr. Wonderful had to do was give me a particular look or raise one suggestive eyebrow, and I would become a quivering heap of idiocy. I knew better than to take some of the risks we took, but I just didn’t care.

Which is how we ended up “parking” in our old high school parking lot that night. Not the most romantic setting, especially since he was well over six feet tall and he drove a very, very small car. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of giggles and accidental horn-honking and a few near-collisions with the gearshift.  By the time we gave up and Mr. Wonderful stepped out of the car to re-adjust his clothes and give me a moment to do the same, we had no idea just exactly how long the police car had been parked behind us, watching.

cop

The officer took our names and other pertinent information and let us go with a warning. And that’s when things got interesting.

You see, Mr. Wonderful had decided to break up with me that night, but apparently didn’t see any reason to share that decision with me before trying to get lucky in the high school parking lot.  I had never been in love before, never been in a relationship before, never been dumped before.  And I didn’t take it well.

I started crying. Mr. Wonderful was trying to drive and trying to comfort me, and in the process of doing both he also managed to run a red light.

The cop who pulled us over took Mr. Wonderful’s license and went back to his car, where he no doubt saw that a different officer had just run that same license through the system less than ten minutes earlier. Meanwhile, my date was trying to comfort me by putting his arms around me.

I was having none of that. I was pissed. I swatted at him and tried to shove him away from me.

Now, imagine how that looked to the police officer sitting in the car behind us.

Before I really knew what was happening, Mr. Wonderful was out of the car. Just like that. Gone. In his place, the officer leaned into the car, shining his flashlight directly in my face and demanding things like, “Are you hurt in any way?” and “Do you need a ride home?” and the kicker: “Are you in the car against your will?”

Call me naïve, but I really didn’t understand what he was asking. Mr. Wonderful may have been a bit of a dick at times, but there was absolutely no way in the world he would have harmed me. I was perfectly safe with him, and I didn’t comprehend what the officer was asking. So I just kept sobbing, “I’m fine, I’m okay, I just want him to take me home.”

It took me years to realize just what kind of revenge I could have taken on Mr. Wonderful that night, or how utterly terrified the poor guy must have been during those moments. Just imagine what must have been going through his mind while he was face-down against the side of his own car, listening for the words from me that could have destroyed his life.

I like to think that I would have taken the high road even if I had comprehended what was going on. I hope that I’m the kind of person who would never have told a lie about Mr. Wonderful just to get revenge. As it was, he ended up with a ticket for running the red light, and nothing more. He drove me home and we said our good-byes, and that was that.

I can look back on that night now and laugh, so I guess my mom’s advice was right about needing a sense of humor. But if my teenage daughter should happen to ask me for advice about sex, I don’t think I’ll mention laughter, cars, or gearshifts.

And that’s okay, because my kid doesn’t listen to advice any better than I did.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “I didn’t listen to anybody’s advice when . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Michelle Grewe http://crumpetsandbollocks.com/  and Ruchira Khanna http://abracabadra.blogspot.com/.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to read some earlier funny stuff from me, check out Have a Goode One, my collection of humorous posts from my blog, most of which are no longer available here on WordPress.

Impediments

When it comes to cliques, they aren’t all bad.

Today’s blog post isn’t going to be one of my usual ones. I need to take care of a little business, and this week’s prompt about cliques seems to be the perfect opportunity to do so.

First, I’ve been really lucky about finding work this summer. Unfortunately, none of the jobs are full-time, so that means I’m working several part-time jobs.  That also means that I am so busy I’m sort of expecting to meet myself coming or going on my own doorstep one of these days.

One of those jobs has involved painting with a group of really nice people who have been incredibly supportive of me as I learn which of my physical limitations to respect and which ones to ignore. I’ve been bending, stretching, reaching and yes, swearing, and I’m figuring out that I’m a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for.

There’s a woman on the painting crew who likes that say that different things are “impedin’ the progress” whenever we run into a problem. She says it with a grim little smile and a laugh, and then she dives back in to work around whatever it may be that’s impeding her progress.

I’m trying to learn from her wonderful attitude, and that’s what I need to talk about today.

I’m a writer. I am forty-nine years old, and I am finally writing and publishing the books that I have wanted to write since I was four years old. That’s forty-five years of dreaming, finally coming true.

Sort of.

Stay with me here. I’m going to make my point soon.

I started blogging because I needed to gain some discipline as a writer. Somewhere along the line, I also figured out that I have a pretty good sense of humor. I learned about marketing and terms like “engagement” and a lot of business-y stuff that I had never really thought about. I met a lot of wonderful bloggers and writers, and I found out that I really get a lot out of staying positive and surrounding myself with helpful and supportive people.

In short, I started having fun.

At the same time, I finished two books in my “Beach Haven” series and added a short novella as a sort of a prequel to the series. I figured out how to format, how to work with an editor and take suggestions without being offended, and I think I also became a better person through the steady contact with a nice little “clique” made up of just the right people.

I also met a couple of writers/bloggers who delight in tearing others down as well, but I’ve made the choice to ignore them. Life is too short to worry about the opinions of people who are focused on the fact that I am fat, middle-aged, and not exactly a beauty queen.  Stressing over that would just be impeding my progress, especially since none of those things have any bearing on whether or not I can write.

As Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.”

In recent months, I’ve learned about different groups of writers who work hard to support and defend each other. In a way, they make up an exclusive clique that works very hard to exclude those who choose negativity and cruelty over support and camaraderie. So yes, even though the word “clique” can have a negative connotation, I am proud to be a part of this particular one.

I am a writer. I’m not the best or the most successful, but I’m writing.

The problem is that I’m not writing my next book.

I’m ghost-writing a few things for very poor pay. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s money. That’s right: I’m prostituting my writing skills to pay the rent. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

I’m writing my blog, which is fun but doesn’t help me finish my book or pay my rent.

I’m doing little tasks at Amazon Mechanical Turk for pennies at a time. It doesn’t help much, but I need a lot more pennies.

I’m babysitting, cleaning houses, working, working, working. All the time. And I’m not making it. Not getting the book finished, not making the rent, not even making enough money to say I’m “squeaking by.”

And I am trying – really, really hard! – not to sink into a puddle of anger and self-pity because my neck injury forces me to work twice as hard to earn half as much. I don’t want to impede my progress by giving in to that anger. I want to stay part of the Positive Clique.

Which brings me to my point.

I’m going to have to cut back on blogging. I used to aim for three posts per week; I’m cutting back to a goal of once a week. I hate to give it up, but the very little time I have for writing needs to be devoted to jobs that are going to bring in money to support my writing. I don’t ever expect to get rich from my little romance novels, but I’m hoping to someday reach the point where I can only work one job while writing them. And to do that, well, I have to write them.

I’ve got to prioritize. I’ve got to stop impeding my own progress.

I’ve also swallowed my pride and added a “donate” button to my page. I’ve seen other bloggers do it, and I’ve always scoffed at them for begging for donations on a free blog. Well, I’m not scoffing any more. I’m right there, begging with the best of them.

I am a writer. I’ve waited a lifetime to be able to say that, and I am honored to be part of the small, exclusive clique of writers who strive to be kind to each other. I’m proud to be part of the blogging community as well, and incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped along this journey to making me a better  person as I become a better writer.

As I wrap this up, I want to leave you all with a link to a truly uplifting and astonishing video I discovered last week. The speaker is an old childhood friend of mine who has always understood the value of kindness better than most. She is a good soul, a dear friend, and an all-around wonderful person.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to cliques . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocalsand Michelle from Crumpets and Bollocks.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

It’s the End of World as We Know It . . . Not!

When it comes to the end of the world, I’m generally a pretty optimistic person. I don’t believe there’s going to be a Zombie Apocalypse, and although talk of nuclear war or diseases like Ebola frighten me, I don’t think that the human race is going to be wiped out within my lifetime. Perhaps I’m burying my head in the sand, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen in the next few decades or even the next century.

On the other hand, I sometimes have weeks like the one that’s wrapping up right now, and I start to harbor all kinds of secret hopes that the end of the world would just hurry up and get here.

Yeah, it’s been a bad week.

Money is tight and things are getting shut off and I’ve had to start asking for help. My pride is at an all-time low, but the positive twist on that is that I’m getting really good at groveling. And begging. I’m also arguing with my daughter, something I’ve never really done before. She’s always been my “easy” child; apparently, the first sixteen years of her life were just part of an elaborate scheme to soften me up for her seventeenth year.

I feel like I’m running, scrambling, spinning in circles with no time left to just sit down and breathe. My house is such a mess that I’m thinking about stringing some yellow tape across the kitchen and telling everyone it’s a crime scene. Then maybe I won’t have to go in there and do anything about the dirty dishes or –God forbid—have to cook for anyone for a while.

It dawned on me this morning that my last social outing was the hour I spent on the bleachers with other moms while our sons had baseball practice. Before that, my only recent social interaction was the two hours spent wrangling seven year-olds at my son’s birthday party.

I need to spend time with someone I did not give birth to. I need a social life. Come to think of it, I need a life, period.  I’m a mom, yes, but aren’t I also something more? When do I get to be A.J.?

Life can be pretty funny, though.

This morning was terrible. Awful. As I said, it’s been a bad week, and it just sort of built up to an even worse morning, made almost unbearable by the fact that today just happens to be one of those random days when my pain levels shoot skyward for no real reason. I’ve been in so much pain that it’s all I can do to keep from just lying down on the floor and giving up on trying to move at all.

I dropped my kids at school, came home, and hit my breaking point. I sat in my car in the driveway, bawling. I’m talking major tears here. The kind that actually dripped off the chin and got the front of my shirt wet. I did some big time ugly crying. I did the whole sniffle-sob-whuffle-whimper thing up the steps and into my house and headed for the mirror to see if there was any way I could make myself presentable for work.

And then . . .

Photo courtesy of Debby Steinman
Photo courtesy of Debby Steinman

My co-workers had the giggles today, particularly while crawling upside-down under the tables with gloves and putty knives in search of dried gum. Later, one co-worker showed off pictures of her beautiful new grandbaby while another had pictures of her own very happy little baby boy. One woman was fretting about some scary medical procedures she is facing, and the other women all made time to give her smiles and hugs all day long to let her know she is not alone.

Later, when I went to the Elementary school to pick up my youngest child, I fought back tears again while talking to another mom. She hugged me, offered to take my son to the school dance with the carload of boys she was taking, and even brought over a special occasion dress for my daughter to borrow.

And now . . . I have two hours alone to catch up on my blog, write my next chapter. Two hours to breathe and remind myself that there are some truly beautiful people in this world who are always going to reach out to others.

Life can be pretty funny. Seems like every time things are at their worst and I’m feeling lost and alone, someone comes along to make me smile or even laugh out loud.  Someone shares a bit of kindness when I least expect it. Smiling isn’t going to give me more money or make it possible for me to make my bills; laughing isn’t going to take away my neck pain or heal the crushing loneliness that hits me from time to time.  And all of the adorable baby pictures in the world aren’t going to magically grant me the time and energy to clean my house. Nothing that happened today is going to take away the problems that had me in tears.

But you know what all of that smiling and laughing and adorable baby pictures can do? Give me the strength to face all of the other stuff.  Strength and hope, and a firm belief that the world isn’t going to end any time soon.  It can’t, because there is still too much good that would go to waste if the world ended tomorrow. It can’t, because right now the good in this world outweighs the bad. Some days, it’s not by very much, but it’s still enough.

Relax, folks, the world can’t end as long as there are moments like this:

Seriously, could this kid be any cuter?
Seriously, could this kid be any cuter?

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This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to the end of the world . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Nikki from Redboots, and Jena Schwartz. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

If Dishes Were Wishes . . .

The chore I hate doing the most is dishes.  I despise doing the dishes. I have a dishwasher now, but that doesn’t seem to change the fact that I still end up elbow-deep in dish soap at least twice a day.  Every day.

I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  There are only four of us in this house, and there is just no logical explanation for exactly how we manage to dirty so many dishes in a single day. Every single day. Granted, I do a lot of cooking and baking, which has a tendency to make the bowls and pans stack up, but that doesn’t account for everything.

dishes

My clean dishes never seem to make it from the drainer or dishwasher to the cupboards. They seem to be in a constant rotation of use-wash-use-wash without ever enough time for a cycle or two of use-wash-put away.

I work in a high school/middle school lunchroom, so I occasionally have to jump in and help with the dishes as part of my job. I don’t really mind doing it there. Maybe that’s because I’m surrounded by other lunch ladies who are also working, or perhaps it’s because I’m getting paid to wash dishes there. Or it could be that the task of washing dishes at work is somewhat of a finite process; there comes a point each day at which the job is done. Completed. Finished.

There is no such point in my house.

I have a daughter who hoards coffee cups in her room, but she can be counted on to bring down an armload of them two or three times per week. I’m not sure how one seventeen year-old can manage to accumulate that many dirty cups in such a short amount of time, but at least they make their way back to the kitchen.

My youngest son tends to stockpile sippy cups and juice glasses on the coffee table in the living room. Like his sister, he can be counted on to bring them to me eventually. But again, it escapes me how one very small person can use so many cups and glasses in a day. Does he get a new one for each sip?

dishes2

And I simply cannot understand the spoons under the couch.  Why are there spoons under my couch? We don’t eat in the living room. Well, okay, we use TV trays and eat in the living room on occasion, but most family meals take place at the kitchen table. When we do eat in the living room, the plates and forks make it back to the kitchen with no problem, so why not the spoons?

It’s not just the sheer number of dirty dishes in a constant flow through the dishwater that bothers me.  There’s the fact that the dishes never seem to quite make it to the sink unless I am the one putting them there. They make it as far as the edge of the table, or the counter in the general vicinity of the sink and dishwasher, but God forbid anyone actually manage to put a dirty dish anywhere even close to a source of water.  I have one child who will carry dirty dishes past the sink to stack them on the stovetop. This should not surprise me, however, as this is the same child who used to walk past the bathroom and down the hall to my bedside to tell me “I gotta throw up” seconds before launching the flow in my direction.

On really bad days, I have started to wonder if there are other people living in my home that I am not aware of.  Perhaps there is a family of twelve residing in my basement, and they sneak upstairs to deposit their used plates and silverware on the counters while I am at work. They might be the same people whose shoes seem to pile up at my door; that would explain the twenty-seven pairs of shoes mounded up beside the door despite the fact that my children keep insisting “Those aren’t mine!”

kitten

I can’t blame it all on my kids or the possible basement-dwellers. When it comes to my own coffee cup, I am just as bad as the rest of them. I drink my morning coffee out of a jumbo white and blue mug decorated with seagulls and lighthouses, and I like to carry it around and sip out of it while I get ready for work. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to set it down in various places whenever I reach a point in my morning routine that requires the use of both hands, after which I quickly forget exactly where I set the damn thing down.

At which point, my morning turns into an impromptu game of Find-The-Coffee, which rarely ends well because I have not yet swallowed enough coffee to jump  start my brain. I eventually give up and go back for new mug, and all is well until I have to put that one down so I can finish getting dressed. By the time I leave for work, I can sometimes go through an entire pot of coffee this way. I figure it’s not really all that bad for me, though, because I only manage to drink about half a cup.

plate

Part of my nighttime routine around here is a scavenger hunt for almost-full mugs of cold coffee before bed. I have found them in my bedroom, in the laundry room, in the refrigerator, and even outdoors in my son’s playhouse on one memorable occasion. I still have no idea how that one got out there.

As I read back over what I’ve written here, something just occurred to me.  While I still don’t have an answer about the spoons, I think I figured out how my daughter and youngest son manage to dirty so many cups and glasses during the course of a day.

They take after their mama.

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This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “The chore I hate doing the most is . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Michelle from Crumpets and Bollocks, and Kristinjill from Ripped Jeans & Bifocals. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Shamrocks, Blarney, and Mom

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, I always think of my mother.

She was part Irish, although I have to be honest and say she was sort of part-everything. Her maiden name was Kirk, and she always told us that she had once traced the family tree back to the first Kirk to come to America from Scotland; he married an Irish girl, and their son married a Cherokee, and so on down the line. She insisted that we had our own Tartan and family crest, and swore that our family history also included Welsh, Swedish, Dutch, French and German ancestors.

She also insisted that she was 5’5” but barely reached my chin, and I am 5’4”, so I think it’s safe to say that many of my mother’s “truths” should be taken with a grain of salt. Irish or not, she definitely had the Gift of Blarney.

shamrock2

She loved St. Patrick’s Day. She was an incredibly irritating Morning Person who was hard enough to deal with on a normal day, but on St. Patrick’s Day, she amped it up by blasting “Irish Washerwoman”  on the radio and clog-dancing around our beds to wake us up. She insisted on speaking in a thick Irish brogue all day, and the real tragedy here is that she thought she was good at it.

She was not.

She had a song that she liked to sing on that day, in the same terrible brogue, that involved a drunken fool coming home late at night and doubting his wife’s explanations about a hat on the hatrack or a head on the pillow. I’ll admit that I thought the song was really funny as a child, especially the part that went, “A football with a mustache on I never saw before!

Of course, now that I’m a parent and have access to Google, I looked up the song and was promptly horrified to discover that my mother’s favorite song was a delightfully filthy little ditty called “The Traveler.”  I honestly don’t remember if she left out the following verses or not:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
That’s not a cock a-standing there,
But a carrot that you see.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
But a carrot with balls on,
I never saw before. 

And I’m sure she omitted the following:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
I ain’t your wife, this ain’t your house,
You have never lived with me.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
It’s the fifth time that I’ve stuffed this bird,
She ain’t never complained before. 

 

 I also remember the year she was supremely offended when I met her brogue-to-brogue with some alternate lyrics I had learned for “Irish Washerwoman:”

Oh, McTavish is dead and McTivish don’t know it
McTivish is dead and McTavish don’t know it
They’re both of ‘em dead and they’re in the same bed
And neither one knows that the other is dead.

She was not amused.

Neither were my sisters, as I recall.  It was pretty early in the morning for a brogue-off.

But the real reason I think of my mother on Saint Patrick’s Day is McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes.  Dear Lord, those things are pure evil.  Nothing should taste so good! Cold and sweet, just minty enough, creamy and smooth. I am not usually a big fan of milkshakes other than plain old vanilla, but Shamrock Shakes are so much more than just a milkshake.  They are an experience.

shamrock

In the final days of Mom’s battle with breast cancer, she developed a craving for a Shamrock Shake.  She had lost her appetite and her weight had dropped to well below 100 pounds, so we were happy that she had a craving for anything. The cancer had invaded her brain; she was childlike in size and behavior by that point.

One of us stopped and bought her a Shamrock Shake on the way to the hospital that morning.  I don’t remember now which one of us it was, and it really didn’t matter. All that mattered was Mom getting something that made her happy at the moment. Before she could even take her first sip, however, one of the nurses who was drawing her blood at the time somehow managed to bump the tray and spill the shake all over the floor.

The nurse was even more devastated than Mom.  Mom wept like a child over her lost treat, and Debbie, the nurse, couldn’t stop apologizing. I remember that she cried a few tears as well. For the next several days, she stopped on her way in and brought my mom a new Shamrock Shake every day until my sister gently told her it wasn’t necessary any more.   By that point, Mom didn’t remember any of it.

I’ve never forgotten Debbie’s kindness, or the horrified expression on her face when she realized what had happened. It was just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it meant the world to a dying woman with seven brain tumors and three grieving daughters. Debbie could have dismissed it as just a stupid shake and shrugged off my mother’s tears, but she cared enough for her patient to worry about more than just who was going to mop up the mess. She let my mom into her heart and I knew, even then, how much that cost her.

Now, more than thirty years later, I still buy myself one Shamrock Shake to drink alone every St. Patrick’s Day in honor of my Mom, but also in honor of Debbie and nurses like her everywhere, who care enough to let their patients into their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.

It’s just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it’s so much more than that.

***

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kelly from Just Typikel, and Lisa from The Meaning of Me. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Three Words I Really Hate

You wanna know what really grinds my gears?

Having to admit that I was wrong.

Come on, let’s face it. I have a temper, I’m impulsive, and I’m a mom.  That’s a combination that just begs for a lot of mistakes and a lot of apologizing.  I leap into Mama Bear mode at the drop of a hat and then end up crawling back mumbling those most hated of words:  I was wrong.

But yesterday’s mistake was a biggie.  Huge. Yesterday’s mistake may go down in history as one of the biggest goofs ever made by a mom leaping into Mama Bear mode far too soon and much too enthusiastically.  And that’s saying a lot, considering the fact that I once told another mom I had a set of anal beads at home that hadn’t been as far up my ass as she was at that precise moment.

Let me give a little bit of setup here.  My oldest child, The Princess, is a self-assured, compassionate, socially skilled young woman.  My middle child, The Dark Prince, is the kind of kid who hides his warm heart and generous soul beneath an I-Don’t-Care/King Of Apathy exterior that fools very few people. But my youngest child, my Little Man, is my Sweet Baby.  He is a timid little soul who feels everything. He is led by his emotions, which means that his feelings are hurt very easily. And when he looks up with those big blue eyes and serious little face, he could bring out protective, maternal instincts in Attila the Hun.

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In short, I have no resistance to this child.

Monday night, my Little Man had a meltdown in my arms when he confessed to me that he had accidentally thrown away his gloves. He was devastated; he picked them out at the store with his Daddy, and they were his favorites.  According to his story, he had thrown away his trash after eating breakfast at school and only realized later that his gloves had gone into the garbage can with the trash.  Sad, but perfectly believable, right?  These little guys go directly to the cafeteria when they arrive in the morning, and anyone could make a mistake while trying to juggle coats, hats, gloves, backpacks, etc.

I’ll admit, my Mommy Radar started tingling. The story seemed pretty detailed, and I am a strong believer in the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid) that says the more detailed a story is, the higher the probability it’s a lie. Had it been The Princess telling me this story, she would have been covering up a genuine accidental loss of gloves.  The Dark Prince would have been lying to cover up the fact that he gave his gloves away to someone who needed them. But Little Man . . . well, he doesn’t usually cover anything up.  He just falls apart and blurts the truth, so I didn’t listen to the Mommy Radar.

My ex-husband dropped of an extra pair of gloves on his way to work the next morning, so all seemed right in our world.  Until I picked up my son after school and learned that the second pair of gloves had gone AWOL.  I had a long and serious one-on-one conversation with his teacher at that point, and we both agreed that something seemed fishy.  Someone was messing with my boy’s belongings, and that’s not okay.

Little Man headed off for school the next day with yet another pair of spare gloves from his father’s house (big sister’s purple gloves, which prompted a hearty “Oh, gawd, mother!” from him). When I picked him up at the end of the day, the teacher had her arm around him and he was crying.  The purple gloves, it seemed, had survived the day, but his prized Batman hat had not.  Worse, it turned out that another little boy had hit my baby near the end of the day.  The other boy swore it was an accident, but the elbow to the gut hurt enough to make Little Man cry.

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Two pair of gloves, a hat, and a blow to the tummy, all in one week?

Suffice it to say that I came unglued.

I made an absolute spectacle of myself, right there in the cafeteria.  The poor teacher was almost in tears herself, and this is a woman who has been teaching a long time. She’s no sensitive little novice who is easily intimidated by an angry Mama Bear, but I think I may have frightened her.  She assured me that the other boy’s parents had been contacted about the “incident” and that every single backpack, pocket, desk and cubby had been searched from top to bottom in search of the missing gloves and Batman hat.

“This ends now,” I fumed. “Something has got to take place here.”

“It will,” she promised.

I held my sobbing little boy and let him cry it out, right there in the cafeteria.  Then we went home and had a little treat, followed by a busy evening at the school science fair and his big brother’s band concert.  Throughout it all, my brave little soldier kept his chin up and didn’t shed another tear over the missing hat.  His dad and I were careful to give him lots of extra attention and praise all evening.

Finally, I tucked him into bed, turned out the light, and went out to pick up the living room a bit.  I put away toys, folded some laundry, picked up the afghans to drape them across the back of the couch where they belong.

And found the Batman hat.

He never wore it to school yesterday.

I am an ass.

So now, I have to apologize to the teacher and admit that I made a mistake.  I was wrong.  Sure, the two pairs of gloves are still gone, and he still got a pretty rough elbow to the tummy, but no one stole his Batman hat.  And if I hadn’t been so pissed-off about the missing gloves or the other boy hitting my Little Man, I would have remembered that he left the house without a hat that morning because it was school picture day and he didn’t want to mess up his hair.

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“Mom, you screwed up!”

I’d love to just send the child to school in a different hat for the rest of the school year and pretend that my meltdown didn’t happen.  Believe me, I am tempted. But this is one of those “teachable moments” that I despise.  I’ve got to teach him that it’s never good to jump to conclusions and overreact to situations, and I’ve got to teach him the importance of being able to say those three god-awful words:  I was wrong.

Right now, there are three other words running through my brain:  Mama needs chocolate.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “You wanna know what really grinds my gears…”  

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But First . . . .

I have never had the courage to post  a “selfie.”  Which means that today, I’m going to face my fear and show the world just exactly why I have never had the courage to do this before.

Let’s face it: I am not a photogenic person.  It doesn’t really matter who is taking the photo.   I just don’t photograph well.  My eyes look beady, my nose looks red, and my lips practically disappear.  And we’re not even going to discuss the whole “camera adds ten pounds” nonsense, because pictures of me show a lot more than ten extra pounds, none of which are the fault of the camera.

I don’t look good in pictures.

I once read an article that gave all kinds of detailed explanations about why mothers so often use pictures of their children as profile pictures on Facebook.  The author had theories about mothers losing our identities as we begin to see ourselves only as wives and mothers rather than as individuals worthy of using our own pictures.

Yeah, I don’t really think it’s all that complicated.  I can’t speak for other mothers, but I use pictures of my kids because they look better than I do.  Their pictures are much more pleasant to look at.

When they were babies, I was always sleep-deprived.  I usually had puke, poop, or some other bodily fluid on some part of my body or clothing.  Money went for things like diapers and formula for them rather than make-up and hair color for me.  So really, I wasn’t much to look at, much less photograph.

Now that they’re older, I’m still sleep-deprived and penniless, although the whole bodily fluid thing has slowed down.  (I say “slowed down” instead of “stopped” because my six year-old managed to spray vomit all the way across my queen-sized bed and even the walls of my bedroom last night.  I think I may still have puke in my left eardrum.)

But I can’t blame my kids for everything.  I wasn’t exactly photogenic when I was younger, either.  Even before gravity, age, motherhood and maple trees had an impact on my appearance,  I didn’t look good in pictures.  I remember going on a school trip to Mackinac Island in my senior year of high school and posing for a group picture on the porch of the Grand Hotel.  I felt beautiful that day, and I remember that I was smiling hugely for the camera.

I looked like a serial killer.

Now, my daughter is just the opposite.  She’s one of those people that the camera just loves.  She’s not a vain creature, but she has taken hundreds of selfies over the years, and she looks beautiful in all of them.  I don’t know how she does it.  Yes, she is beautiful; but how does she look good in every single selfie she takes?  Just once, I want her to get a full-on shot of herself with one eye half closed, in mid-sneeze or something equally awful.  Just to prove there’s justice in this world, you know.  Just one bad picture of her, just to make the universe seem a little bit more fair.

I also have some certain . . . er, technical difficulties when it comes to taking selfies:

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Need I say more?

This is my favorite selfie ever, although I think the technical term for it is “ussie” because it has two people in it.    I look happy, if a bit demented and only slightly overwhelmed by a really bad hair day, but I like this one.

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Of course, I didn’t take it, so I don’t think it counts as a selfie.

It was taken on the same day as this one.

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I hesitated to share this with anyone because it makes me look “fat.”  I tried to blame it on the wind blowing up inside my blouse and making me look bigger than I really am, but  . . . well, I am what I am.  And in this shot, what I am is happy.  Strong.  At home in the one place that can heal me and make me whole again, no matter how I look in pictures.

Me and Lake Michigan.  Now that’s a great picture.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “I have never had the courage to…”  

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Baggage Claim

My father’s best advice wasn’t anything he ever put into words.  It was something he taught us by example, through the way he lived.

That’s not to say he wasn’t fond of dishing out advice.  He was full of helpful hints and suggestions, most of which were somehow related to trusting our instincts and paying attention to the “vibes” of any situation.  He had many fantastic stories about times he had narrowly missed death or some other catastrophic event because he listened to his gut and walked away from situations.

No father would ever want his children to live the way my father lived.  To say he had a rough life would be an insult, because his life was so much worse than just rough.  He grew up in abject poverty, lost his father at the age of twelve, lost his brothers in a freak boating accident when he was twenty-one.  After that, he basically lost the rest of his family as well because his mother and four sisters never fully recovered from that tragedy.

He was married three times and divorced twice.  He moved to California when my sisters and I were very young, so he lost his children as well; even after he came back, we all three nursed a grudge toward him that even the strongest man would be hard-pressed to overcome.

He drank.  He drank a lot.  He narrowly avoided arrests for DUI on several occasions, but only because he was a silver-tongued devil who could talk his way out of almost any situation.

Through it all, he never stopped trying to form a relationship with his daughters.  He never stopped reaching out to his grandchildren.  He never stopped working; even on his worst drinking days, he was an exemplary employee who showed up at work to offer help on the days he wasn’t scheduled.  He was a meat cutter, a manager who managed his department even on his days off.

I guess you could say that life really kicked my Dad’s ass.

Through it all, he never stopped finding a reason to laugh.  He had a quick comeback for everything.  He told the raunchiest of raunchy jokes, the kind of jokes that take your breath away and make your toes curl up in your shoes.  The kind that make you gasp and go Oh, my God, did he really just say that?

He had the kind of self-deprecating sense of humor that showed the world he didn’t take himself too seriously, but he didn’t sink into self-mocking humor that was painful for the rest of us.  No, his goal was to make the people around him comfortable, even at his own expense.

I got to know him, adult to adult, in my late twenties.  He really liked my ex-husband, although Dad insisted on calling him “Ted.”

For the record, my ex-husband’s name is not Ted.

During one particularly rough patch in our adult relationship with our father, one of my sisters blasted into Dad about all of her feelings.  She talked about having “baggage” from all those years of growing up without a father, about the anger we all held toward him for his years of drinking and hard-living.

He listened to her.  He didn’t apologize because an apology at that point wouldn’t have changed anything.  He just took it.  He sat there and took it because he loved her and he knew that she needed to tell him those things.

He always tried to organize “family camp-outs” with all of his daughters and our families at a dreary little campground in Allegan, and that year’s attempt came shortly after her outburst.  It was a tense, uncomfortable affair.  I stayed away that year, but what happened next has gone on to become legend in my family.

Everyone was short-tempered and angry and really, really wishing  for an excuse to leave early, or at the very least a chance to use indoor plumbing.  As the group cleaned up after dinner, Dad turned to my other sister rather unexpectedly and asked her, “So, do you have any baggage?”

That was unfortunate, because apparently, she did.  She let him have it with both barrels.  She chewed him up one side and down the other and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she had baggage.  In fact, as the story has been relayed to me over the years, her exact words at the conclusion of her tirade were “So if you want to call that baggage, then YES, I have baggage!”

An uncomfortable silence fell across the group.  Finally, after a moment, my stepmother leaned over to pat my sister’s hand.  “Honey,” she said softly, “your father asked if you had any baggies.  You know, to put the leftovers away.”

“Oh.  In that case, no.  I don’t.”

Life went on.   Dad never responded or defended himself.  He forgave, although he never asked for forgiveness.  When he died a few short years later, our family gathered at the church to talk to his pastor about what we wanted for his funeral.  We discussed his favorite hymn and decided who would sing it, and then the pastor asked us, “Is there anything you want the world to know about your dad?”

The three of us looked at each other and smiled, and we all three spoke at the same time:  “He didn’t have any baggage.”

My father’s best advice was to let go.  Let go of anger, of grudges, of regrets.  Let go and move on.  Life, he seemed to say, is too short to dwell on pain.  I often tell people how grateful I am to have inherited his sense of humor, but I hope I also got even a small bit of his resilience, his strength.  His ability to let the bad things go, to bounce back and get on with his life.

Dad’s greatest accomplishment in life?  He died without baggage.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “My father’s best advice was …”  

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