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Posts Tagged ‘Once upon a time’

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been seventy and surely would finally be blissfully earning the moniker we gave him much too young, “The Old Man”. My dad would’ve been a good old man, the best really. He already excelled at it by his late forties and that sort of thing only gets better with practice.

For his 70th, I’d like to share a story from my 15th.

Once upon a time, there was a horribly selfish 14 and 364/365 year old, who was incredibly PUT OUT by the fact that her dad was going to miss yet another of her birthdays. You see, my dad {yes, I will be playing the role of The Selfish Brat for this story} was the secretary for something called the International Claim Association, or ICA. {Which, totally unrelated but worth mentioning~ when I was a young thing I was a little hazy about all of this so I used to tell people my dad was a lawyer for the CIA. Untrue! But probably impressed a lot of very confused people.} In fact, my dad was an attorney for a life Insurance company so he was deeply familiar with the claim department of his company which led to his involvement in this organization.

Let me just break here to say, none of this matters. Except that it did because the committee meetings for this particular organization were often held the second week of September which also happens to hold an extremely paramount moment in history: the date of my birth. And because these meetings were often held at warm, sandy-beach locations, my mother naturally wished to accompany my dad and where did that leave me? A neglected orphan cruelly left to suffer yet another birthday alone {or, you know, in the company of very loving, capable grandparents and older siblings who more than made an effort to give me a special day, WHATEVER.} {I should also note that while my dad did very well for himself and his family, 5 kids in parochial school and all the various other expenses so many grunions incur, of which there were numerous and plenty, is not easy on the checkbook so taking us kids along was just not a viable option.}

By the time my 15th birthday hit, I was OVER it. Had it been a year later, I probably would not have cared, being at an age where spending the day with my friends would be much more important than hanging with my family but at 15 I was not quite there yet and the memory of my 12th, and golden, birthday still stung. On that occasion, not only was I was missing my dad but out of the goodness of my mother’s heart {she stayed home this time}, she agreed to baby-sit my severely ADHD cousin who had been served sugar and Mountain Dew at a Boy Scout function and who subsequently had to be locked out on the porch for fear he would destroy our house. It was an unpleasant experience and I told my dad he wasn’t allowed to miss anymore of my birthdays until I was over 18. I’m sure he didn’t actually agree to this, but somewhere in my head he did, so when I found out he would again be attending the ICA meeting over my birthday I was… displeased.

He left a day or so before the 12th of September. I can’t remember the conversation we had or the hug I’m sure he gave me, despite the fact that I had not stopped giving him The Filch Eye since I found out he was leaving. On my birthday, from Wherever, USA {I can’t even recall which warm, sandy location he was visiting this time} he called and I told him, after careful consideration, I would forgive him for ditching me if he brought me home something really, really special. Something to make up for not only missing this birthday but the handful of others over the years. He just chuckled in his way and told me to “be good”. I took that as a confirmation that he was going to bring me home something awesome. Something truly spectacular. And really? I should not have been this naive. I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that my father didn’t pick out any of our gifts growing up. I’m positive that task was delegated to my mother and she did a fabulous job at it so I don’t know what I was thinking. By the end of my dads trip I had myself pretty well convinced that he was bringing me the 1995 equivalent of a time traveling, golden unicorn that shit money. {Spoiler alert! That did not happen. Disappointing, I know.}

Anyway I had built this whole thing up in my head, so sure, sososososo sure, that my dad wouldn’t want to disappoint me and would have been sufficiently guilted into picking me out something fabulous. And sure enough, when he got home, he intimated to me that he did pick me out something special. All my teenage angst and rage dissipated, I was immediately filled with love! admiration! and awe for this wonderful man. This beautiful father who brought his newly minted 15 year old daughter a special gift. He passed me a smallish green box. Oh! Jewelry! I hadn’t even thought about that! Diamonds? Sapphires? Oooooo definitely sapphires, they’re my favorite and also my birthstone which makes them awesome AND meaningful. I was so in love with the contents of that box for roughly 20 seconds and then…

I opened it.

And it was a fish.

A fish made out of shells.

It wasn’t even a pretty fish.

It was a dumb fish.

It was the goddamn dumbest, ugliest fish I had ever seen in my entire life.

I hated it.

I hated that fish more than anything I had ever hated before and I was an angsty teenager so I hated A LOT of things.

Here is where I’d like to tell you that I pushed that hate deep down. Deep, deep down. And graciously smiled and hugged my dad for picking something out just for me. I did not do that. “What the hell is this?” may have been uttered. Also “A fish? You thought of me and bought… a stupid fish? Really?” I was not happy and after making sure this wasn’t a gag and my REAL gift wasn’t waiting for me outside, I left the little green box on the counter and stormed off to my room.

Such a brat. A complete, utter, ungrateful brat. To my mom’s credit, she was patient and understood why I was upset. Later that night, through the crack in their bedroom door, I heard her explaining to my dad that no 15 year old girl wants a fish made out of sea shells for her birthday. “They want CDs. They want pagers. They want Abercrombie shopping sprees. They really don’t want decorative fish.” And in true, unperturbed Garry form, he said quietly, “I thought it was nice.”

I did not forgive him easily. I did not take that dumb fish out of its box for weeks on principle. Eventually it made its way to my room, I’m sure my mom brought it there, and at some point I took it out. Inside was a little stand so it could be displayed and well, time is a funny thing, that ugly fish made it into that stand and was placed on a shelf in my room. I still hated it. It reminded me not only of being disappointed in my dad but of my own shitty behavior when I had received it… but there it stayed. Mostly forgotten, occasionally despised, for the rest of my years at home.

*         *        *      *

After he died I found myself in my old room. For the few months following the unexpected, I had abandoned my cozy loft apartment that still had my cats and my fiance, to give support to my mom in the wake of a loss that seemed as long and wide as all eternity. There, on my dresser was that dumb, ugly fish. And I picked it up, and ran my fingers over its cool, smooth surface, its sharp angled fins, and I cried. And I clung to it. I imagined my dad wandering off into the hotel’s gift shop. I saw him walking slowly along the shelves, scanning the various kitschy objects. Picking trinkets up, putting them down. I saw him pick up the ugly fish. I saw him smile at it. I felt him run his fingers along its surface. I heard him say, “I’ll take this one. For my daughter, she turns fifteen today!” And then they put that atrocious thing in that small green box and now here it was, 8 years later, a gift from my dad. A part of him here, waiting for me to love, and to appreciate the love it always had for me.

Ugly Fish {that’s its name… after all, a spade’s a spade} has spent every night since, these 10 long years of missing him, on my nightstand. It is a reminder to be gracious. A reminder that I was loved. A reminder of my dad. And I love him so much. And the dumb fish too.

Happy birthday, dad.

2.10.1

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Little Miss

Mr. Sir

The Duke

In the week or so after birth he looked exactly like a blond version of Rowan but he’s already changed so much. Whatever the case, he’s for sure the spitting image of a super stud muffin.

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…of the baby of course, get your mind out of the gutter, Internet. Our big anatomy scan is at the end of the week and it is just now starting to hit me that we might very well know if Sammy Davis Junior Junior is a boy or a girl by the end of the appointment. I always find it hard to get excited about these ultrasounds, mostly because I’m riddled with anxiety that the baby will be healthy and have all its major interior and exterior body parts working well and accounted for. It definitely helps that I had a scan at 10 weeks and there on the screen we saw a wee little head, and two arms and two legs flailing around, but still, it seems like so many things can go wrong and even though our combined genetic histories put us at nearly zero percent for defects or worse, stranger things have happened.

So to distract myself from the stress of those thoughts that I can’t seem to shut off, let’s relive how I found out what Rowan and Keaton were going to be because if my past has taught me anything it is ALL BETS ARE OFF, when it comes to expectations for finding out the sex of your baby.

{Author’s note~ This post some how got obnoxiously long {I seriously have a shutting-up problem, I promise to get it properly evaluated by a physician at some point}, in case you don’t want to read it or give up half-way through to save your eyeballs, I will sum up thusly: We will hopefully be finding out the sex of the baby in a couple of days and we really don’t care either way, The End.}

From a very young age I wanted only boys. I grew up in a neighborhood of boys. Boys were easy. You played in the dirt in the morning, played baseball in the afternoon, rode bikes in the evening and probably topped off the day back in the dirt. I liked playing with boys because I liked how boys played. At school I tried playing with girls, but there were just so. many. rules. And if you screwed up those rules you were unceremoniously banished from the game only to be the favorite again the next week. Though I definitely had tomboy tendencies, I liked playing girly things just fine as a kid {I did have three sisters after all, two older ones that I idolized and a younger one I liked to boss around} but I did NOT like the way girls played. If a boy was mad at you he maybe called you a stinky fart face or something similarly poetic, punched you on the arm and then you could all move on with the game. If a girl got mad at you it was a roller coaster of psychological manipulation and abuse for what could be weeks or months on end, depending not so much on the infraction but on the vindictiveness of that particular girl. This is the main reason why I wanted boys and only boys, the other small part being that, well, Christy as a teenager? Ugh. No thank you. No one needs a repeat of that shit.

When I got pregnant with Rowan, I kindly informed Bill that his only job was to ensure that I only received Y chromosomes from his supply, which I think was a pretty reasonable request, don’t you? {This isn’t a trick question, the answer here is YES.} After all, I had to have my head hanging in a toilet for months on end only to have my lady bits assaulted with something that GOOD LORD just does not seem conducive to its size. I was so confident after the pain and suffering of those first four months that little baby Jesus would bestow upon me the boy I wanted so dearly. And really when you took into account that Bill had an impressive amount of cousins that were having babies at the same time and they were all birthing BOYS, every single last one of them, absolutely ZERO GIRLS? Well, I thought we had this in the bag.

I was nervous for the ultrasound, having been so sick, but I DESPERATELY wanted to know the sex. I so needed something to carry me though the last half of that horrendous pregnancy. Finding out that the boy I had envisioned all my life was on his way was just what I needed to make the rest of the pregnancy bearable. The appointment was not at my normal OB office but at a hospital I was unfamiliar with and run by a tech that had most likely earned her certificate the day before our appointment. She wouldn’t even tell us if the baby looked healthy or not as “that’s your doctor’s job”. She made it very clear that her job was only to take the measurements and when we asked about the sex of the baby towards the end of the scan she moved the wand around my stomach in a  nervous fluster before saying she had no idea, not even a guess.

Unfortunately my next doc appointment was weeks away so I fumed and worried that entire time, angry that she couldn’t have at least given some sort of indication that everything looked okay and was functioning properly with the baby and disappointed that I would most likely have to wait until the birth to find out the sex. If there is one thing I hated at the time, it was the color yellow, as I knew that was all I was going to see for the next 4 months. When my next OB appointment finally came, my awesome doctor apologized for the shitty experience we had and quickly assured us that although the baby was on the small side, that it looked 100% healthy. He also took pity on me and ordered another ultrasound to check growth at 5 and a half months, making sure it would take place right in the office with the most experienced tech they had.

That scan was amazing. The tech pointed out every part on the baby, going over bones and organs, taking his time while letting us marvel at the beautiful little blob on the screen. He asked us if we wanted to know the sex and we said if he could see it then yes,

“Oh yeah, I can see it,” he said confidently, “It’s a girl!”

Me: …

Me: …

Me: Are you sure?

Tech: Yep!

Me: …

Me: How sure?

Tech: Very sure. I’m not legally allowed to tell you I’m 100% sure, but if this baby comes out with a penis, I will personally reimburse you for any pink baby clothes you buy beforehand.”

Me: {looking at Bill with narrowed eyes} He sounds pretty sure…{and in a hissed whisper} You did it wrong! You better start running now…

See how nice I was! I wanted to give him a head start so he had a chance to escape my WRATH. I was downright reasonable, gracious even! Once we got in the car my mom called, wanting to hear the big news first and I will admit that when I told her in an exasperated tone, “Well, the baby has ten fingers, ten toes and one fucking vagina, thanks to Bill”… it was maybe not my proudest, most mature moment. Bill and I went out for lunch where I begrudgingly admitted that the universe would probably not implode over this and I can tell you that after lunch it took roughly 7 minutes to fully get over myself because that is the time it took to get to Target where I was assaulted with so many twee little pink and purple, flowery sweet baby girl things and something in those feminine patterns ramped up my pregnancy hormones to FULL BLAST and that teeny, healthy girl residing safely inside of me? No longer felt like a curse but the most amazing gift I had ever received. It was the first time I could visualize not just a random baby but MY baby. And when they placed her in my arms, the deal was cinched. I know bonding and love comes differently for many mothers and babies, as the experiences between Rowan and Keaton varied wildly, but when they placed that child in my arms I was in love so completely, so wholly, and I never looked back.

Having this amazing girl-child in my life caused many changes for me, not the least of which was that I went from wanting 3 boys, to an army of girls. Seriously, that first year or so after Rowan was born, I would have gladly signed up to give her 9 more sisters. When we decided to start trying for another baby, I put in my order for another girl with Bill, and {maybe not so gently} told him not to screw it up this time.

Well. I guess we all know how that turned out.

It was less of a shock this time around because I didn’t have very long to get my hopes up. At twelve weeks the doctor couldn’t find Keaton’s heartbeat with the doppler so they rushed me in for an ultrasound where, along with a steady, strong heartbeat, the doctor also thought he spied a weinerhausen. He told us it was WAY too early to say with any confidence but that if he had to guess he’d say it was a boy. So at 19 weeks when we had the official ultrasound and the baby’s penishood was confirmed right away as he was NOT shy, it was not a super big surprise.

After lecturing Bill about learning to follow directions better {because really} I settled in to the rest of my pregnancy, trying to get used to the idea of a boy. I will admit that it took longer to warm up to the idea of a boy than it did to come to terms with a girl. While his family was definitely more populated with the male species, MY side was mostly girls. Who would he play with, with all these girl cousins running around? Plus I had spent the last two years learning to be a mom to a girl! Was I going to have to start all over again? How do you change a diaper with all those extra parts in the way? I felt like I was finally coming into my own in this parenthood gig and now I was headed back to square one. {And I was, but for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the baby’s sex and everything to do with his screaminess.}

To be honest, because of the severity of the colic, I didn’t really have too many thoughts about Keaton’s “boyness” until he hit about a year. Yes, baby boys pee on you. A LOT. And they pee on your bed spread and walls and drapes and floor and pretty much anything within a 10 foot radius. A LOT. But he never shot projectile warm liquid poop at my face {with my mouth agape in horror} while I was sleepily changing a diaper at five in the morning like his lovely sister did during the second week of her life so all’s forgiven.

In the end? My daughter, who I swore would be a mud loving tomboy like her mama, turned out to be a fairly accurate stereotype of a pink-loving, princess-worshiping, sparkle fashionista, American Girl-Child {although the kid’s not shy around mud or rough housing and I would never classify her as prissy}. And my son vacillates wildly between car-loving, rough-housing, sword-wielding, ALL BOY to Mr. I Do Not Care What You Think of My Sparkly Pink Toes, and can work a tutu and ponytails and strut like nobody’s business.

People often say, “oh you’re so lucky you have one of each- you can be done now!” Um, huh? Having one of each sex was never my goal {clearly} and I know that had I had two boys or two girls, I would have been just as ridiculously proud and in love with them. I totally understand that there are differences between the two sexes but in my experience people put WAY too much stock into a child’s gender rather than what really makes them them~ their own individual brand of personality.

That being said, I really DO feel lucky to have one of each. I think they benefit massively from learning from each other. They are both exposed to things they probably wouldn’t have been, had we had two of the same sex, not the least of which will be the avoidance of awkward conversations with terrible visual aids when it comes to the big body talk- there are no mysteries of the exterior appearance of the human body left to these two at this point. I can honestly say that the gender difference has in no way affected their love for each other. They truly are the greatest of friends. They love sharing a room. They don’t always love playing the same game with the same toys but most of the time they can find common ground with minimum bloodshed. I can very truly say that I am blessed beyond measure that my original gender requests went unheeded by the universe.

So this time around? I have put in no requests other than the standard wish for a healthy baby. I honestly do not care and have no clue or feeling whatsoever as to whether we are expecting a boy or a girl. Bill thinks it’s a girl based on… I’m not really sure what. Keaton wants a brother and if it were up to him, we should just throw this one back if it’s a girl, and Rowan has put in an order for one boy and one girl, so she’s going to be disappointed either way as we are already VERY SURE there is just one baby hanging out in my uterus. I entertained not finding out the sex at all and while I see why some people make that choice it is really just NOT for me and my strong propensity for impatience and planning shit. Then I entertained the thought of just keeping it between Bill, the kids and I, but who am I kidding, there are just NO SECRETS when it comes to six year olds and Rowan is so excited to find out that it would be a pretty big blow to tell her she had to wait 4.5 more months in the interest of secrecy.

Obviously, after all this blathering on, we will most likely get an uncooperative baby. I have a midwife this time around and they generally do not like to order unnecessary tests so unless we want to pony up for a private ultrasound, we’ll be left in the dark until October. And while that wouldn’t be awesome, it will be okay because I am ready for all possible scenarios at this point. I just feel so lucky to be feeling mostly alive and functioning and the reality of a third child to our little family is starting to come to light. While the thought can be somewhat terrifying, it mostly causes me to break out in a wide, stupid, silly grin for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

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I’d like to say my love for the theater is inborn. And, who knows… maybe that’s true. But even so, I came to its exposure from a source I don’t often, or enjoy, talking about because the person who is most likely responsible for that love is someone for whom I have very complicated feelings for, and no, it’s not an old boyfriend who jilted me, that would be extremely preferable to the actual situation.

It was my paternal grandmother. And she was…ummm…let’s be delicate…not a good person.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my life, and that I am still struggling to grasp, is that life is not black and white. People are not solely good or evil. Choices are complicated and messy and therefore the reflection of who we are becomes complicated and messy. Our intentions may be good, our truth may seem whole and wise, but paths twist and wind and things that were never meant to become who we are, are somehow part of us, tattooed onto us seemingly without asking permission. Add the personal filters of the countless individuals that interact with us on a daily basis and wow, the definition of who and what we are can be so vastly different from what we even think ourselves. And there it is, so is life.

But as a habitual idealist and a cynical realist, {I swear these qualities are in my very nature, but also helped along by my nurture} my not immediately labeling someone “bad” or “good” is a real challenge. I have to constantly remind myself that repetitive bad choices, while undesirable, don’t make a person entirely bad.  And those that I admire and put up on pedestals are not the saints or angels I have made them out to be in my mind. We all stumble. We all fall.  Some of us get our asses right back up again and others take longer. Writing these things down, they seem pretty elementary, cliché. Nevertheless. I still haven’t figured out yet that the guy who cut me off and then slammed on his brakes isn’t  the reincarnation of Hitler himself, out there just being an asshole for asshole’s sake.

All this to say, I recognize that my grandmother was not wholly evil but if we’re on the color scale between black and white, I think it’s safe to say that she altered between a murky grey to about as charcoal as you can get during varying periods of her life. In her defense she suffered from severe alcoholism at points and I’m not sure what {or if there was ever an official diagnosis} but there was definitely some form{s} of mental illness. She was enabled by many people who loved and/or tried to love her and this contributed to her reign of terror over her household and family. Needless to say, she made some terrible choices in her life and my dad did not grow up in a stable, loving home and for that I am sad. For him and for the trickle effect that had on my family as a whole.

My dad was strong though. And had a sense of humor surpassed only by his remarkable sense of responsibility to those he loved. And though I know he struggled with his upbringing he was a firm believer in the fact that no matter how bad it was, no matter how bad she was, at some point you have to stop blaming your parents and take responsibility for the life you were given. He was a remarkable man, a good father and do you see the pedestal I have him up on? Yeah, I know, I just told you, I’m a work in progress. Yes, he made many mistakes over the years but his true self, his character, the stuff he was made of…shines through all that.

The theater, which I seriously do love with my whole heart, was introduced to me by this woman I find myself so despising. For the greater majority of my life, my parents cut ties with my grandmother and even after a reconciliation of sorts was hammered out, my contact with her was so limited that I barely have any memories of her after I turned eleven years old, {and the ones I do have that fall after that aren’t of the fond variety}. But before that, in an ebbing and flowing period of relative calm, I had a great relationship with both her and my grandfather {who was a favorite of mine, but was also the chief enabler of so many of her bad choices, something an 8-year-old is blissfully unaware of}.

As for the flip side of a woman who could be so ugly, so horrendous? Was a woman who was extremely intelligent, quick-witted, charming and savvy. She loved culture and gourmet cooking and exploring different religions and philosophies. She was very into meditation and yoga, long, LONG before they came the official New Hipster Religion. She loved her grandchildren, though sometimes her judgment was so far off I have to wonder if she ever knew what loving unselfishly outside of herself, really was. It’s hard to say. I only knew one facet of her along with the things that I gleaned from the hushed tones of grown-ups in other rooms.

I think I’ve made it clear she wasn’t your typical grandma and that was true in the positive sense as well. She didn’t take us aside and give us crocheting or needlepoint lessons…she gave us meditation lessons. She took us to the Renaissance Festival and bought us bona-fide medieval veiled princess hats. We didn’t watch old cartoons at her house over a bowl of buttery, gooey popcorn, but instead ate air-popped corn seasoned only with sea salt while curled up to watch The God’s Must Be Crazy and The Bells of St. Mary’s countless times. At Christmas she would take Snoreface and I to a truly fancy, white linen, completely-unsuitable-for-children restaurant before visiting the elaborate holiday display complete with an audience with Santa himself at the huge downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s. I can shut my eyes and see us all seated at that restaurant, beside a warm, glowing fireplace, wondering where the hell the kids’ menu was yes, but still loving every minute.

And the plays, oh the plays. Season tickets to the Children’s Theater Company including performances of Cinderella, Bartholomew Cubbins, Streganona, and so many more. The kids’ plays were one thing but it was the yearly trip to the Guthrie at Christmas time to see their annual production of A Christmas Carol that was it for me, and then later when she took me to A Midsummer’s Night Dream there, well, it was all over. I was hooked. And while my own brief stint as a performer culminated in the role of the Nana in The Velveteen Rabbit at my school play in Fifth grade, I never lost the love and respect for the theater as I aged into a know-it-all teenager and again into the “asshole years” {a phrase my father coined for the ages of roughly 17 through 22 when your children believe they are invincible and also that they have life all figured out and those old folks {particularly of the parental variety) have nothing of value to add to their extreme awesomeness}.

I went on to see many shows at the Ordway, Orpheum, The Jungle Theater, Park Square Theater and Theater in the Round. I loved it all. From The Belle of Amherst, a modest one woman Emily Dickinson play, to the sullen Shakespearean works of Hamlet and Macbeth, to the enormous productions of Miss Saigon, Les Mis, Rent, Into the Woods and Wicked. The rush of emotion I feel as the theater lights dim and the stage lights shine up is the very same every single time. This is true love and it is beautiful.

The introduction and exposure of theater to my world was something so lovely, so wonderful, done by someone…not so lovely. Not so wonderful. Sometimes I think I should hate all that the woman stood for even though I know it’s such a stupid thought, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, etc. etc., but there it is. I see…she was not all bad. Somewhere in there I know this is true. There was good in her, a love for something that shined out of her and into me and that is something. I know there are those that must have loved her. Those that I know that have forgiven the things she had done to hurt so many in her life, but I, for better or worse, am not one of them. Not yet.

My father did forgive her. And I don’t count this against his judgment but as a testament to who he was.  Of all the things she’s done I think the hardest one for me to reconcile is that she, this grey, grey woman, lived to ninety-seven years, because although the rest of her body was a mess, her heart was ridiculously healthy and refused to quit beating, while my dad’s heart, so good, gave out after just 59 years. I guess when you don’t use it to love more than yourself, it has a lot more time to just tick away {yes I know that is patently untrue, immature and mean but sometimes I have to just let it out somewhere}.  I do pity her though, and recognize that my perception of forgiveness as a tool to enable those that are consistently dickheads has a few holes in it. I’m working on it, but for now, forgiveness might be a ways off and that’s okay.

This isn’t a story about forgiveness anyhow. It’s about reconciling that some of the good in my life came from her. And that doesn’t mean it has to be tainted by negative. It doesn’t mean I should feel guilt over loving something that she succeeded in cultivating in me. It doesn’t mean that I can’t take that love and pass it on to the next generation…

Because that's just what I plan to do.

 

PS~ At six, Rowan’s an old pro, having seen Cinderella and Annie already but this was Keaton’s very first play and we’re so happy at how great he did and how much he enjoyed it. Rowan loved “all of it”, “the mean, wicked witch” was Keaton’s favorite part, and I can honestly say my favorite part was watching them.

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For the last day and a half I was subjected to the most terrible racket on planet earth. What was that? No, it wasn’t the constant door slamming as Bill worked between the entryway and the garage. It wasn’t the screeching, scraping sound as he tried to get the stubborn linoleum and glue off the concrete floor. It wasn’t even my children who kept sneaking down the steps to test out how echo-y their voices had become in the entryway sans carpet.

No. It was the horrendous mewling that came out of the mouths of our cats {specifically one cat, and while I won’t name names, it just might rhyme with Funky Mane} because we had the unbelievable gall to shut them in the laundry room for 36 hours while the grout dried and oh my holy baby jesus, you would think we had thrown them in a tar-pit full of hungry hybrid alligator sharks.

Mind you they are just fine spending time in the laundry room when the door isn’t shut, as this is where their litter box is and one of their favorite things to do is stink up my downstairs, and also Monkey has commandeered a shelf of beach towels on the utility rack as her own comfy cat nest. But such noises you have never heard after I shut them in, and my cats don’t meow for a few minutes, see the futility of it all and give up. Nonono. My cats take alternating twenty-minute shifts so that we are all highly aware of their heightened dissatisfaction at all times.

The biggest problem, for Monkey anyway, was not just that we locked her in a small room, but that we locked her in a small room with her second-most arch nemesis, Fawkes, aka: the cat we brought home for her to love and be best friends with. Bill and I got Monkey on Labor Day weekend 2002. I had just moved into a new apartment and when looking, my criteria for a new residence was not ample bathroom space, lots of storage or walk-in closets. It was that it had to allow cats. Because I am stupid. And because I had been without a real pet cat since I was 14 when our family cat, Pepsi, died of feline leukemia and all I wanted was a snuggly kitty to love and/or be my evil sidekick in taking over the world. Or, you know, both of those things.

The shelters were closed for the holiday weekend and I was devastated because I wanted a cat now! because I was pretty sure I was going to die from LACK OF CAT. So Bill, sensing my irrationality and that I would not shut up until I had a fluffy kitten in my arms, saw a flier at PetsMart for free kittens. It ended up being at this shady, old, run-down farm house that may or may not have contained a crystal meth lab about 45 minutes into rural Wisconsin. Once there, we were not entirely sure we hadn’t been duped by the free kittens poster and instead we were maybe going to be maimed, drugged or murdered, but you know me… I was all “WHATEVER “DRUG LORDS” WHERE’S MAH KITTY”.

Once upstairs in this shithole we were greeted by a woman with a bandaged hand who explained that some of the kittens “are biters” and then told us we could pick any one we wanted. This would deter most sane people but I did not happen to fall into this category at that time. Besides we couldn’t really leave as there was now a giant dog of the pit bill or rottweiler variety standing guard at the door. I picked up a couple of the kittens, wanting to rescue them all from that place and there was a male that I had pretty much decided on when Bill, who hated cats and all they stood for, came in from another room holding Monkey and said, “This is the one.” When I pointed out that Monkey was a girl and that Bill had wanted a boy cat, he shrugged and restated, “This is the one.” I took her from him, looked into her gold eyes and yup. She was it.

And for one year she was an only kitty and she was loved and petted and pampered beyond any good sense or reason. She became my mini-me, affecting my sort of mean but affectionate-when-it-suited-me personality. {It is no mystery what my spirit animal would be if I actually believed in bullshit spirit animals, for I am cat through and through.} She played honest to god fetch with her bobo-kitty. She loved boxes of every and any kind. She shared my olives with me and licked beer out of bottle caps. I was a junior in college with a heavy course-load and I also worked two jobs plus a mentorship so when the following fall rolled around, Bill and I decided to get a playmate for Monk so she wouldn’t be alone so much.

Enter Fawkes. I got her from the Humane Society and picked her for her unabashed affectionate nature and teeny-tininess. Fawkes is the exact opposite of Monkey in that she is open, loving and really, superbly, dumb as a rock. {The teeney-tininess didn’t last long either, as she quickly became the dominator of the food bowls, eating her way to almost 15 pounds by the time she was two.} I still remember the look of utter betrayal on Monkey’s face when we brought Fawksey home. Monk retreated in a fit of hisses to the crawl space in the lofted bedroom and would not come out for anything. Days later she came down but anytime the tiny kitten came near her she would hiss and throw herself under or behind the nearest piece of large furniture. It was seriously like living with a hormonal teenager. If she would have had opposable thumbs and a bedroom door there would have been major slammage and the loud playing of emo-rock tracks.

A couple of months later I rescued a third shelter cat from certain doom and if I thought Monkey hated kittens? Whoa boy. I was about to find out she hated 4-year-old torties a hell of a lot more. Bear was older and took Fawksey in as her own little pet, but her and Monkey became arch nemesises and they could never reconcile. Therein commenced a three year long battle of who could pee on the carpet the most and after trying everything short of animal psychiatrists or pet hypnosis {although we did try anti-depressents as anti-asshole medicine hasn’t been invented yet}, we turned Bear over to a no-kill animal sanctuary and this may sound ridiculous to those who aren’t partial to pets but handing that cat over was one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever had to do. I had taken responsibility for her and loved her and giving her up was my failure, not hers and let’s just blame Bill since he threatened it was either Bear or him. I called to check in on her a few months later and they reported that she had been happily adopted soon after we brought her in, so there’s that at least.

Monkey’s third  arch nemesis is, of course, Luna but it’s pretty week as far as adversaries go. I don’t know if it was that giant-ass dog that was at the crack house with her in her infancy but she handles Luna’s bundle of energy with nothing more than petty annoyance and the two share a love for the fireplace in the winter, getting closer to snuggling than her and Fawksey ever would.

So you can see after this awful existence we’ve given her, why Monkey just could not stand to be locked in the torturous laundry room for sooooo loooong. And why she serenaded us with octaves of mewling that I’m pretty sure don’t even exist in this dimension of space/time. Her life is so terribly awful. We should start some sort of fund shouldn’t we? Ever since I released her from her torment this morning, I have been waiting for her typical spiteful Poop in Undesirable Places {i.e. the kids room, my bed} but so far she has only stared me down while purposefully knocking my water glass off the nightstand, so maybe I’m getting off easy this time.

Nevertheless. In our fire escape plan Monkey is second only to the kids. I suppose it could be her winning personality, but more likely it’s that Monkey is the first thing Bill and I kept alive together. She was our practice baby, our petted-up-stink. She witnessed our path from infatuated boyfriend/girlfriend to engaged couple to newlyweds to parents twice over, taking a particular shine to Rowan. Her warm, purring body curled up next to mine gave me unimaginable comfort in the months after my dad died. When she wasn’t farting in her sleep anyway.

She’s a pet, yes, but she’s grown up with us and become part of us. And we love our Monkey Jane.

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After dropping you off in your classroom on your last day of Kindergarten, the walk down the long, narrow hallway seemed harder than usual. By walking out the doors of the building and away from you, letting you go about whatever business the last day of Kindergarten entails, I was somehow allowing you to grow up, to grow further apart from me. I’m not going to lie, my pace was slow, my steps measured, and I picked up your brother who did his part to comfort me by snuggling his head on my shoulder. But out we came and if life has taught me anything it’s that it stops for no man, no woman, even if that woman is a mother who is a weepy mess of nostalgia for a girl who’s legs have all of a sudden gotten too long.

I came home, determined to follow routine, and made my way upstairs to pick up after our whirlwind morning. In a heap on the floor lay Woobie, rumpled and sad looking, though I suppose he is a stuffed being so it’s possible the sad part is just me projecting my pushy human feelings on the poor thing. My favorite part of Woobie is that he doesn’t have a threaded on smile, like so many other kids’ loveys, seeming to always feel just how you feel~ for Woobo is nothing if not the epitome of empathy. I scooped him up, lifted him to my face and took a slow deep breath in, taking in his scent, your scent, mimicking your own actions when you find him at the end of a long day.

This chubby, little pink penguin with the brown eyes and the yellow beak, attached to a mini security blanket, belonged to a baby I once knew. A baby who would not go to sleep without him tucked firmly under her chin, rubbing the silky tag along the side of her pudgy cheeks.

Woobie was then passed on to a toddler who took him with her on all of her adventures, from daycare, to trips to the zoo, to the hospital to meet her baby brother for the first time. When you would fall or get hurt you wouldn’t run to me for comfort, but to Woobie, who you would rub on whatever was injured, repeating tearily, “Woobie will make it better.” And you know what? He always did.

Then you became preschoolers together, at first he was clutched tightly in your hand as you entered the little school, then as days went on, carefully placed in your backpack {with his head sticking out so he could breath, of course!}, then he kept your carseat warm while you were off learning new things until finally you forgot him one day and you didn’t even notice until you saw him upon your return, scooping him up for a long, apologetic snuggle.After years of Woobie’s tag being rubbed up against your cheek, or methodically between your thumb and pointer finger, his tag started to deteriorate. When you noticed this you cried for Woobie’s lost appendage but made a solemn oath to Woobs and what was left of his tag, “I promise I won’t rub your tag anymore Woobie. I don’t want it to disappear.” And then you kissed his cheek.

And then he belonged to a big girl Kindergartner. And we had a very serious talk about what Woobie would do during all the long hours you were at school. You decided that Woobie would be too lonely all day without you. We made a rule that he could go with you but had to stay snug inside your backpack so he wouldn’t get lost. I pictured you reaching in for your lunch box but pulling him out instead for a quick sniff, it was a security for me as well as you that he was there if you needed him.

In time you decided Woobie wasn’t happy being stuck in a bag all day so we decided he would go to Woobie School, where I promised to drop him off every morning after dropping you off.  You would remind me in a hushed tone so he couldn’t hear “Mom, Woobie School is on my bed. Don’t forget to pick him up first at the end of the day so he’s in the car when you come get me.” “I promise,” I assured you.

When I pick you up this afternoon Woobie will change hands again. He will belong to a Kindergarten graduate. A First Grader. Part of me can’t help but wonder if ol’ Woobo’s days are numbered. If by next fall you won’t seek comfort in him when mama just isn’t enough. If you will be too grown up to include him in your nightly dreams. If he’ll be replaced by a damn Barbie doll or Bieber replica {::SHUDDER::}. I find myself bargaining with no one in particular, that you please love this silly stuffed penguin for all time.

Last night I sneaked in to checked on you, while you were still a Kindergartner. You lay on your side, with your legs curled up and there, tucked tightly under your chin was Woobie. And in that moment I felt safe from the future. Safe from First Graders. Safe from grown up Rowan. And wow. I needed that. Thank you, Woobie.

Your First day of Kindergarten...

 

...And your last. We're so proud of you Rowan J.

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Once upon a time there was a lady who was really, really pregnant.

Her mother gifted her and her husband a beautiful white crib. The pregnant lady told her husband to put it together so that the baby could have its own place to sleep instead of sharing a bed with the dog or 3 cats. {No photographic evidence exists of the putting together of the crib but the bassinet was put together at roughly the same time and I assure you that the husband's face looked very similar to this so you get the gist...}

After a lot of puking and general be-moaning of her pregnant self, the pregnant lady became a mama. Just like that. And she had the most precious girl in the whole world and that girl slept safe and snug in the beautiful white crib.

Then seemingly right before her parents' eyes, the baby girl grew a little bigger...

And a little bigger. Then the lady who was just a lady, went back to being a very pregnant lady and the beautiful white crib had a spectacular metamorphosis from pink...

To blue. And the sweetest baby boy came to sleep snug and tight in the beautiful white crib. {But not until he was eight months old because strangely enough, during the previous seven, the boy was convinced the crib was covered in molton lava and screamed his wee, precious little head off any time the lady tried to put him in it.} But he figured it out! And...

Similarly enough, he grew bigger...

And bigger. Until one day the baby boy wasn't a baby anymore and he wanted a big boy bed of his own.

And so the beautiful white crib went through another transformation from crib to toddler bed...

And the tiny blue stars were traded in for pink once again, as it was returned to its rightful owner. And for 21 more months the girl and the bed were together, but a funny thing happened...

That little girl kept right on growing. And even though she loved the beautiful white crib, she was ready to say goodbye.

The boy too was sad to see his toddler bed go, but excited for his very own big kid bed. And so the new bed was ordered and the delivery men came to put it together...

They tried to wait patiently but that's a pretty hard thing to do when something as exciting as bunk beds are being erected on the floor above and the lady won't let you go and ask the workers if they are done yet. So they just kept right on waiting..

and waiting...

And waiting some more.

And just when they didn't think they could wait any longer...it was time to go and inspect.

And the boy and the girl were really high up!

And really happy.

And down, down, down came the beautiful white crib. And the lady, the mama? She was sad. That beautiful white crib had been where she laid her babies' soft heads down for nearly six years. It was a fixture, a part of their little family and now it was gone. But the mama, and the daddy, are happy for this next chapter to start anew.

THE END.

Epilogue

It’s spring break for us this week and we are running around like crazy people cleaning out dressers and closets and trying to fit a ton of fun stuff in for the kiddos. That being said I will try to get another, less schmaltzy, nostalgic piece up, including pictures of the finished product and give, in full detail, with my full arsenol of swear words, an account of just how fucking fun it is to change the bedding on that top bunk.

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