Never Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll

tull

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.

chronic

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.

 

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”

Of Water, Ice and Fog

In the water I am beautiful.
― Kurt Vonnegut

I grew up near Lake Michigan, although I really prefer to say that I grew up in Lake Michigan.  According to family stories, I swam in the big lake before I walked, and getting me out of the water at the end of the day was a challenge that often involved screeching, kicking, splashing and a basic all-around kerfuffle on all fronts.

On land, I was clumsy and slow-moving.  I tripped over my own feet and bumped into doorframes.  My family used to marvel at the way I managed to fall upstairs or stumble off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit; I would skid on freshly-waxed floors or walk into low-hanging tree branches, and to this day I still cannot walk safely into a room with throw rugs.

But all of that vanished as soon as I hit the water.  I was in my element. I could glide beneath the surface, change directions, and stay under long enough to send my aunts into a panic.  When I dove and kicked in the water, my body would move along so gracefully that I felt long and lean and beautiful.  Strong.  It was the only place where I could be fluid and lovely in my movements.

I feared nothing in the water.  Oh, my aunts taught me early on to respect the Lake and all of its power, but not to fear it.  It was almost as if I had lake water in my veins instead of blood.

z5203lakewavy1

But time passes.  Little girls grow up and have to come out of the water eventually, changing and growing just as the lake changes with each passing season.  There is less time to swim and play and be beautiful in water; more time to buckle down and find a job, face life’s challenges, accept a life on dry land.

In the winter, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over in a nice, smooth sheet like a pond or inland lake.  It freezes in great jagged peaks and mounds that hide dangerous crevasses and air pockets.  It is beautiful and sometimes deadly.  A hiker out for an adventurous climb can sometimes disappear without a trace, without a cry.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre

It takes courage to tackle the lake in its frozen form.  Courage that I lack.  I’ve never walked the ice or braved the pier in winter.  I’ve stayed safely on shore, no matter how ugly and clumsy that made me feel.

WINTRY WEATHER MICHIGAN

If we’re not careful, we can spend too many years standing on shore because it is just too scary to take a chance on the unknown.  We can congratulate ourselves on our wisdom in avoiding those hidden hazards; pat ourselves on the back for being the smart ones who know better than to take a silly risk.  We may miss out on some of the fun, we say smugly, but at least we will never disappear through a crevasse or air pocket without a trace, without a cry.

And then we wake up one morning and face the fog on the beach, only to realize that the ice is gone and we’ve missed our chances.   Opportunities can evaporate like the mist that drowns out the sunlight, and the mournful wail of the foghorn sounds like a lament of “Too late!  Too late!”

I want to swim again in summer, and feel beautiful once more.  I want to take off my practical shoes and not worry about how I look in a bathing suit, and I want to plunge beneath the surface again. And in the winter, I want to bundle up and take a chance.  For once in my life, I want to take a risk and climb on the ice with everyone else, before I disappear without a trace, without a cry.

I am ready for the ice in my veins to thaw into lake water.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam.”

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/ice-water-steam/”>Ice, Water, Steam</a>

Thankful

I prepared my first Thanksgiving dinner the first year I was married.  We bought a very small turkey and I used one of those turkey-cooking bags that are specifically designed for morons, which was really an appropriate choice for me. I went a little bit overboard with the side dishes:  stuffing, yams, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits . . . basically, the equivalent of month’s food budget in one overcooked meal.

It was hard for us to figure out how to juggle his family, my family, our family, my step-family, his grandmother, his other grandmother . . .

Gradually, I stopped making a meal on Thanksgiving.  It really didn’t seem to be worth the expense or effort since we were all stuffed to bursting already from all of the family gatherings.  In case I haven’t mentioned it before, my ex-husband’s family are simply not normal people when it comes to preparing food.  These people have traveled down from the Heavens above to grace our taste buds with divine ambrosia, with the food of the Gods, with flavor combinations that can make a strong man weep tears of ecstasy.   As I am fond of telling people, even the forks taste good when these people start cooking.

If my former mother-in-law served a plate of bricks for dinner, we would dive right in and enjoy every bite of those bricks.

But I digress.

Over the years, our families have dwindled, and so have our gatherings.  His grandmothers are both gone; my father and aunts are gone as well.  Most of the nieces and nephews have grown and moved on into their own lives, trying to juggle multiple get-togethers just like we did as newlyweds.

And we are divorced now.  This is my first Thanksgiving without The Big Guy.  Without his mom or his brothers and their wives, without his aunts and uncles and cousins who made me one of them for the last eighteen years.  Whether we met at Aunt June and Uncle Fred’s, or at Aunt Jan and Uncle Dale’s, I was never just their in-law.  I was family, right from the start.  They accepted me as one of them.   His cousins became my cousins.

The first time I met his grandmother, I asked her what she wanted me to call her.  I was expecting “Mrs. Meyer” or perhaps “Virgie.”  Instead, she looked at me as though I had asked her the stupidest question ever asked, and instructed me to call her “Grandma.”  Of course.  What else?

Duh.

I don’t think The Big Guy ever realized what a precious gift he gave me by sharing his family or how honored I am by their continued love and support despite the divorce.  My own family was so different.  Grandma lived in Arkansas and made it very clear that I was not her favorite; I can count on one hand the number of times I ever received a kiss or hug from her. My cousins in Arkansas and Oklahoma seem to be very nice people, and their wives are absolute darlings.  One of my greatest wishes in life is to meet them someday outside of Facebook.   My other cousins live less than an hour away, and we are all really making an effort to regain some kind of closeness, some of the camaraderie we shared as children.

Overall, though, my family has become my sister, her children, and my children.  And that’s just going to have to be enough for now.  Someday, I may fall in love again, but I just don’t know if I’ll ever fall in love with an entire family again.

For the time being, I am planning my Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in over a decade.  I have a twenty-two pound turkey, which is exactly ten pounds over my current lifting restrictions, so getting that baby in and out of my oven is going to be an adventure.  I will keep it simple, with only the side dishes that I know my children will eat, and I will follow it up with the obligatory pumpkin pie and my much-requested chocolate-chip cheesecake.

I’m going to set the table with my grandmother’s Depression Glass dishes, and I’ll be setting out an extra plate for the excellent young man who is dating my daughter.  A rite of passage in its own way, about which I am in complete denial, but that’s a subject for another day.

And you know what?  I’m actually looking forward to Thanksgiving on my own this year.  On my terms, in my way, with my family.

As long as I can get someone to get the turkey out of the oven for me.

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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Trick or Treat

One Halloween, I felt like the worst mother in the world.

I was still a relatively new mom, and I was trying much too hard to be one of those over-achiever moms like my perfect sister with her perfect house and perfect children in their perfectly hand-made costumes.  I felt that it was my job – nay, my duty – to make perfect hand-made Halloween costumes, no matter what.

My daughter’s costumes always turned out well, but my oldest son was another story.  Something always seemed to go wrong.  He was a hand-me-down pumpkin on his first trick-or-treat outing because I didn’t finish his bear costume; he was terrified of the clown costume I made for his second, and I was faced with the choice of letting him writhe on the floor in abject terror or slapping a Little Tykes hard hat on his head and calling him Bob the Builder.

It was on his third Halloween that I came close to failing him completely.

Wal-Mart had an adorable pattern for a Pikachu costume, and the boy was all about Pokémon at that age.  I showed him the pictures, let him touch the fabric, pleaded with him, but to no avail.  He just didn’t want it.  He wanted Bob the Builder again.  I tried and tried to convince him that he needed to let his mother make him a costume, but he just had no interest in anything I had to offer.

Halloween Day arrived, and I hung his sister’s Snow White costume in the living room to show her before I drove her to pre-school.  There were no costumes allowed in school; it was called a “Fall Festival Day” rather than a Halloween party.

The Dark Prince and I walked the Princess into her school and then returned to my car for the drive home.    As I pulled out of the parking lot, I glanced in the rearview mirror– and I saw the biggest, bluest eyes I have ever seen, shedding huge silent tears.

I should say right here that the Dark Prince has never been my easy child.  He was colicky from Day 1, opinionated from his first word, and contrary from the day he figured out how to scowl.  He is still a gifted pessimist who can find the dark cloud surrounded by any silver lining.  Now, don’t get me wrong; he’s a tender-hearted and generous soul when he lets his guard down, but the boy has always had some serious walls.  He rarely asks for anything, so when he does ask, we know it’s important to him.

“Want . . . Pikachu,” he whimpered that day.

It was eight o’clock on Halloween morning, and my baby wanted to be Pikachu.  Really, now, what choice did I have?

I rushed him to Wal-Mart for the pattern, fabric, tulle, and trims.  I plopped him in front of the TV for a Pokémon marathon, and I sewed for all I was worth.  I cut and sewed and swore (and cried, I’m sure) and hated every single stitch I put into that costume, but it was finished by the time we went to pick up the Princess.

Pikapi?
Pikapi?

He was adorable in the costume.  He looked more like a small yellow cow than a tiny electric Pokémon, but he sure made an adorable yellow cow.

I felt redeemed by that stupid yellow cow costume.  I felt like it proved I was a good mom.  After all, I gave him the costume he wanted, didn’t I?  Sewed it with my own two hands.

But later that night, when Pikachu and Snow White shed their costumes in a heap on the living room floor and fought to share my lap, I changed my mind.  They both had upset tummies and smelled of stale chocolate, and both fell asleep in my arms while I cuddled them close and worried that I had let them eat too much candy.  I should have rationed it out, I told myself; I should have counted it and doled out a mere piece or two.  I should have given them baths and tucked them into their own beds in their own room.  I should have taken more pictures to show their father, who worked second shift and had to miss the fun.  There was an enormous list of all of the things I should have done.

I really beat myself up over not being perfect.  I wanted so much to be a good mom who did everything right.   Instead of enjoying those two not-so-perfect wonders on my lap, I worried and stressed and second-guessed my every move.

But there is nothing in this world as rewarding as holding a sleeping child, and holding two of them that night was truly what my Aunt Marian always called “one of life’s bonuses.”  I slumped on that couch for hours with one child over my shoulder and the other curled up against my belly, just watching them sleep, feeling their warmth seep into my body and my soul.

Sometimes . . . sometimes a mother’s heart gets so full that only a miracle keeps it from bursting.

The Dark Prince turned sixteen yesterday.  He is still dark and pessimistic at times, with an edgy and sarcastic sense of humor.  It has been years since he could sit on my lap; I barely reach his shoulder when he hugs me good-bye before leaving to spend the week at his father’s.  He is a Junior in high school, and all too soon it will be time to let him go.

He is so smart that I haven’t been able to help him with his homework since he was in fourth grade.  He is funny but quiet at school, although I defy anyone to try to shut him up when he gets going on his favorite subjects:  Nikolai Tesla, Teddy Roosevelt, and Anime.   I don’t think he’s had a girlfriend yet, but I could be wrong.  Telling his mother about a girlfriend isn’t something that falls within his comfort zone.

I worry about him, just like I worry about his brother and sister.  But I worry just a bit more about him because, of all my children, he is the least likely to ask for help or tell me about his problems.

I hope he never forgets that he’s got a mom who will drop everything to turn him into an adorable yellow cow if that is what he needs to make him happy.  And I hope I never forget that being a good mom has nothing to do with handmade costumes or being a “perfect” anything.  It’s all about holding them close, breaking the rules once in a while, and remembering how much I love them.

It’s as much about knowing when to hold them as it is about knowing when to let them go.

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 “One Halloween, I…”  

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Bye, Spot

The last really good belly laugh I had was just last night.  Or early this morning, I guess I should say.

It took a while to get Little Man to bed for the night.  He has been up much too late the last two nights because of different 4th of July celebrations, and he was having a hard time turning off all of the internal engines for a night of rest.  No, that boy was ready to party on when he should have been sound asleep.

When he finally passed out, I settled in on the couch with a book and my can of Tab (yes, I cheated on Diet Coke), enjoying the silence that can only be appreciated after spending two hour with a six year-old who keeps insisting “But I’m not TIRED, Mom!”

That’s when the other two came downstairs.  Just as nature abhors a vacuum, my teenagers apparently abhor silence.  Of any kind.  If there is silence there is trouble, they seem to feel.

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“Why is it so quiet?”

“Are you upset?”

“Is something wrong?”

I have great kids.  Noisy ones, but great.  They were worried about me.

They plopped on the couch with me and we spent the next two hours giggling over YouTube videos of Steve Harvey and some idiot woman who thinks rainbows in the sprinklers are part of a government conspiracy.  We swapped horror stories about Driver’s Ed, and made fun of each other, particularly my vertical challenges when it turned out I was too short to blow out the candle on the entertainment center.  We laughed over stupid, unimportant, inconsequential things.

I laughed so much my belly hurts this morning.

Who knew my kids were so much fun?  When did we reach this stage in our relationship?  I feel as though I’ve been inducted into a secret club that previously existed only between the two of them.  They are fourteen months apart, and as different as two siblings can be, but they have their own little world that that I have never been invited into before now.

Last night’s laughter took me back to my teenage years, when my mother would go to bed early and my sisters and I would become idiots.  We’d bring out the Monopoly board for marathon sessions that didn’t start until nearly midnight, and nobody ever won.  We’d get lost in laughter and stupidity, usually ending when one of us would flick the little Scottie dog across the room as part of a long and complicated “Mr. Bill” joke that ended with a loudly whispered “Bye, Spot!”

We weren’t innocents, not by a long shot.  Over the years, we broke so many bottles of Boone’s farm and TJ Swan under the bed of the purple bedroom that I’m surprised we didn’t get a contact buzz from the alcohol fumes that permeated that room.  We never got the idea that shoving our contraband under that bed wasn’t a safe or smart way to hide it.  In fact, I remember late night laughter about christening the carpet that became inside jokes about the Christian side of the room vs. the Jewish side.

I guess you had to be there.

The point is that most of my fun memories of laughing with my sisters didn’t involve alcohol.   We laughed at stupid things that were really funny to no one but us.  It was our own secret language; an exclusive club open only to the Hyde sisters, although an occasional Crawford, Lockwood or Thayer joined in once or twice.

The club closed down long ago.  We all got married and divorced, had children, argued over too many things.  We never figured out how to find the fun, how to keep the laughter alive.  We forgot the punch lines to our own inside jokes.

We grew up.

We stopped laughing together.

We grew apart.

My sisters and I are as different as my children.  The shy one became the ultra-confident career woman.  The outgoing one became her own person and created her own family from her network of friends.    And the bookworm?  The tagalong who was so busy trying to be like her big sisters that she forgot to figure out her own identity?

Well, I’m finally growing up, too.   I stopped trying to copy Susan’s quiet elegance and sophistication, stopped mimicking Barbara’s effervescence and charm, stopped trying to be what thought I should be, and started figuring out who Amy is.

I’m a writer.  I’m a single mom.  I’m a decent cook and a great quilter.  I tell too many stories and I have a tendency to forget that I am not the center of the known universe.  I have some amazing friends that I don’t always deserve because they are better friends to me than I am to them.

I have great kids who let me into their private club for a brief time last night, and I have the aching stomach muscles to prove it.  And when they grow up, my most heartfelt prayer is that they never, ever forget the punch lines to their inside jokes.

 

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/roaring-laughter/

And She Dances

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My first Monday morning in my own home.  The kids are sleeping.  I’ve got a cup of coffee with just the right amount of hazelnut flavoring, and the only sound is the cooing of the mourning doves outside my window.

Life is good.

Life is scary, too.  I still haven’t found a job.  I haven’t found a home for my two cats.  There are boxes everywhere that still need to be unpacked, and I have so many doubts about being able to make this all work.  I have so much to prove to the world.  And to myself.  I will keep this house clean, I will stay organized, I will stay current on all bills.

It has been an enormously emotional weekend, and not just because it was our first in the new house.

Saturday was my daughter’s dance recital.  She has been dancing since she was four years old, and we’ve learned over the years that recital weekend is a grueling, exhausting, expensive weekend.  It is a true joy to watch her and her friends dance on the stage, but I am always relieved when it is over for another year.

I always cry when my daughter dances.  It’s silly to keep doing that after all these years, but I can’t seem to stop.  There is something so graceful, so ethereal, so not-my-daughter about her when she is on stage.   She is illuminated from within, barely touching the ground, her gaze focused on something I will never be able to see.

When she dances, she is free in every sense of the word.  When she dances, she is utterly her own being, and I ache inside because she is not mine in those moments.  When she dances, she is dancing away from me and I don’t want to let her go.

Two of her teammates graduated this year.  I have watched these two young women grow up with my daughter, through awkward teen years and adolescent angst and even the occasional acne.  But these are not my daughters.  Their growing up shouldn’t hurt me.

When my daughter first made the competition team, I instructed her to follow one of the older, more responsible girls.  “Follow Lindsey,” I said.  I knew Lindsey was reliable and trustworthy, a born leader.  As long as my kid followed Lindsey, she would always be where she was supposed to be, when she was supposed to be there.  After my accident, there were competitions and performances that I couldn’t attend, when my daughter had to ride along with other families.  “Just follow Lindsey,” I repeated.  I knew Lindsey wouldn’t sneak off to break rules and get in trouble.  She would never lead my child astray.

Saturday, I watched Lindsey dance her final dance with the Alleykat team, and my heart cracked just a little.  I have no idea how or when that skinny little girl became such a beautiful adult, but she is all grown up and off to college and it takes my breath away to realize that my little girl is still following Lindsey; in one short year, my baby girl will dance her final Alleykat dance and head off to college too.

“Please,” I want to say to my child, “Don’t follow Lindsey.”

Emily is also heading off to college.  If Lindsey made my heart crack, Emily broke it wide open.

I know nothing about dance, but I know enough to know that she is good.  Really good.  She is a tiny girl, with huge eyes and a perpetually serious expression that almost hides her capacity for mischief.  There is something sprite-like about her on stage, an ability to defy gravity and make the impossible seem easy.  Over the years, I have loved watching Emily dance because she is always perfectly in control, precise in every way.

She wasn’t in control with her dance this year; her performance to Christina Perri’s “Human” was all about breaking free of control.   Maybe I misinterpreted her dance.  Maybe I got it all wrong and I have no idea what I am talking about.  She wore a silver mask and went back and forth between precision and wild abandon, symbolically fighting to be free of self-control and the expectations of others.  This song was her public declaration of who she is everything that she can be in life.

It was the first time a dancer other than my daughter has made me cry.  I am so proud of Emily, even though she is not mine to be proud of.

And my daughter . . . my beautiful, thoughtful daughter did a dance just for me.  She did a Pointe solo to “And She Dances” by Josh Groban, and she became one of those whirling ballerinas that pop up and spin in a child’s music box.  If Emily’s dance proved to the world that she is only human, my daughter’s dance reminded me that they all becomes something other than human once the music starts.

I was a wreck by the time it was over.  My niece, sister-in-law and mother-in-law were too.   I think even her father and future stepmother were moved to tears as well.

And now it’s Monday morning.  There are costumes to wash, thank-you notes to send out, dance tuition payments to make.  It’s a new week, a fresh start, and all of the raw emotions have been repackaged and put safely away for the time being.   Somewhere in the back of my mind, there is a tiny, nagging thought that next year’s recital will be the last one we have to attend.  That next year will be my daughter’s farewell dance.

Life is good, life is scary, and life goes on.  Day by day, year by year, dance by dance.

Totally!

My favorite decade was the eighties, of course!  The fashions, the music, the TV shows – what wasn’t great about the eighties?

Okay, I could have lived without seeing Don Johnson’s rumpled white suits and bare ankles.   And George Michael’s suntanned lips were pretty creepy.  And I could seriously contemplate self-harm if I ever have to watch a Toni Basil video again. But we also got MTV, Max Headroom and REM.  The eighties gave us Moonlighting and launched Bruce Willis on an unsuspecting TV audience. The eighties gave us leg warmers and pegged jeans and slouch boots.  Slouch boots!  Who didn’t feel gorgeous in slouch boots?

I wore earrings in the eighties that could have doubled as fishing lures.  Seven earrings up the left side, one super-long dangler on the right.  A big gold hoop with a spare key dangling from it.  The true question of the eighties is how on earth I managed to come through both earlobes intact.

And the colors.  Jewel tones and bright geometric prints.  Socks that matched the collar that matched the ginormous earrings that matched the bejeweled hairclip.  Color-coordinated matchy-matchy outfits that worked perfectly for someone with my fashion-impaired sensibility.   It was so easy to put an outfit together, like Garanimals for grown-ups.  I wore royal blues and vibrant reds and shades of fuschia that could be seen from outer space.

But my love for the eighties isn’t just about the fashions and the music.  It’s more personal than that.  The 1980’s were the decade when my life really started.

I started and finished high school in the eighties.  Started college, but didn’t finish.  I got my first real job, left home, got an apartment.   Lost my first job.  Hated the apartment and moved into my sister’s basement, got a better job.

I lost my Aunt Ida and my mother and my grandmother in the eighties.

I sold my first article in the eighties, to a now-defunct magazine called “Amazing Heroes.”

I became an aunt in the eighties.  That moment is still right up there as a close second or third behind becoming a mother (a nineties event, not part of today’s post).  Some of the most wonderful people in my life were my aunts; I still find it hard to believe that I have been lucky enough to be an aunt to eight little people.  Not so little, actually; only one is still shorter than I am, and I expect him to pass me in about three years.

And only three of them were born in the eighties, but I’m the kind of aunt who can never brag about just one niece or nephew.

We make fun of the fashions of the eighties now, but the truth was that I felt beautiful then.  Maybe it was because I spent my late teens and early twenties during that decade, and most women begin to recognize their own beauty at that age.

The big, big hair was perfect for me.  Even now, I still have enough hair on my head for a small village.  I wore it long and spiral-permed and pulled it back with scrunchies and bow-shaped barrettes.  And don’t forget the banana clips!  Oh, the banana clips!  Decorated with faux pearls and rhinestones and enough flash and sparkle to blind anyone in a ten-mile radius.

I only stopped wearing a banana clip when I realized LeVar Burton wore one every week as a visor on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

No, LeVar, that's not how you wear a banana clip
No, LeVar, that’s not how you wear a banana clip

Make up in the eighties was totally awesome.  Anybody remember the blue mascara?  Paired with blue eyeliner, it made my small, close-set eyes actually look big for once.  And the lip gloss.  Bonnie Bell Raspberry Lip Smacker was my go-to flavor.  Glosses and roll-ons with fruit-flavored glitter and sparkle that glistened like drool on a teething six-month old.

My sister referred to that look as “Cum-Lips.”  I didn’t understand that in the early eighties, but I caught on somewhere around 1987.  Yes, I was a late bloomer.

My sixteen year-old recently had to dress up for “Eighties Day” for her school’s spirit week.  I wanted to coach her in how to peg her jeans and do her make-up, but she seemed to figure it out just fine.   I wish she would have let me give her “Mall Bangs,” though.  They would have made the outfit.

I'm not sure if I should be proud or afraid
I’m not sure if I should be proud or afraid