Monday, October 14, 2013

Perfectly Wrong

I was watching "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" with my teenage daughter the other night, when we came to a scene where a boy is offered a brownie at a party, not realizing it was "special."  He ate it and became as high as a kite.  I decided to use this as a teaching moment in the war on the drugs in suburbia.

Me:  "Carolyn, you should never eat brownies at a party."
Her: "Why?"
Me:  "Because they could have drugs in them.  Marijuana is very bad for you - it affects your reproductive organs."
Her:  "Is that why I have red hair?"
Me:  pause ... "Touch√©"

I'll be honest, I got a lot of pride out of her comedic timing.  Spot on.

But I know what you are thinking.  Yes, I smoked pot in college.  And yes, my daughter knows I did.

So, where does the judgement lie - in the doing or the telling?  Or both?

I have always believed in admitting to my kids about my past mistakes.  How can they talk to me about their thoughts and fears if I am sitting high on a silver cloud of perfection?  And no, the cloud does not smell like pot.  My daughter has always taken it in stride, but my 10-year-old son usually isn't so sure.

Him:  "I heard about Carolyn's joke."
Me:  "Did you?"
Him: "Yeah.  Did you do drugs?"
Me:  "Yes."
Him: "Why?"
Me:  "Well, I was curious, and wanted to fit in, everyone was doing it, and I made bad choices.  If I was the person I am now, I would have never done it."
Him: pause ... "Ok...."

Again with the judgement - because I did it, or because I told?  Or both?

As parents, are we supposed to be perfect or human?

Here's my answer - yes.  We are supposed to be both.  Set the standards, teach the rules, share the expectations, BUT then explain why.  

For example, if you see a little child picking up dog poo, you say, "Yuck, drop it!"
If you see an older child picking up dog poo, you say, "Don't eat that - your mouth will rot!"

The truth is, "because I said so" doesn't work any more. In this world of technology and investigative journalism, people want proof and accountability.  So, I am an open book.  And I hope, by being transparent, that I will spare my children just a few of the mistakes I made.  They will make brand new ones, but hopefully, they won't be made out of fear or ignorance.  And if I do my job right, the timing of their good choices will be impeccable.

Until next time, keep crowin' - and keep it legal!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

7% Uncertain


For my 41st birthday, I received a DNA kit.  Not because I am about to join Maury Povich onstage for the latest edition of "Who's Your Daddy", but because I truly wanted a final answer for the question, "Where did you get that nose?"

My quest to determine my ethnic heritage had, up until this point, been an internal journey.  Since adolescence, whenever someone would ask me where I was REALLY from, I would tell myself, surely, not from here.  The details are sketchy.  My father's father had a mysterious life, and most of his adventures and escapades are lost to time.  My appearance has been ambiguous enough to raise questions from friends and strangers alike, and I have always wished to find the answers.

And so, with a spit deposit in a tube and a postage-paid envelope, I submitted my history to science.

Turns out, I am pretty much a white girl.

According to my saliva, I am:

British Isles                    64%
Scandinavian                  22%
Eastern European            7%
Uncertain                        7%

I was disappointed until I got to that last 7%.  There was my loophole, my life raft.  A little bit of me that can't be determined, a percentage that I get to keep and grow.  7% of me cannot be put in a corner, labeled and ready for delivery.  I get a space on the page to be whatever it is I thought I was, whatever it is I should be.

I can do a lot with 7%.  I can break cycles, tear down walls, reconnect with my heart, and conquer just about anything.  I can navigate my children through the struggles of life, and fall in love with my husband, again and again.  I can overcome crimes committed against me, and learn how to live without fear.  I can be proud of my sacrifices, and strong enough to stop sacrificing.  I can just be.

Sometimes, we lose ourselves so much, we give so much of ourselves to others, that we forget to keep some for ourselves.  I think that was the purpose of the test for me - to show that, no matter what, we all have something inside that can't be touched - it's just for us.

Until next time, keep crowin' and hold on to your 7%!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

It's Not Hard, People

Take a look at this photo.  Can you spot the error?

 
So close ... just a few more steps ....
 
 
If I were a sociologist, I'd solve the mystery of why carts are abandoned in parking lots, when the corral is 10 feet away. Or the greater puzzle of why we walk past said carts, go into the store, and get a fresh one.  Why do we step over a piece of clothing that has fallen off the rack at a store?  Further, why do we speed up to keep a car from pulling in front of us when lanes merge? 
 
Are we overly righteous or underly moral?
 
I silently judged the person that left their cart to die at Target, but then reprimanded myself a few minutes later when I realized that I could have fixed the problem by putting it away - and didn't.  Today, at TJ Maxx, I fixed one sweater that was askew on the hanger, but not the next five.  I let two cars go in front of me while waiting at a red light, but not the third.
 
Where do we draw the line? 
 
You see, I'm a stickler for putting a plastic divider down after I've put all my groceries on the conveyor belt, but sometimes leave my drink cup in the movie theater after the show is over.  I wipe down the equipment at the gym after I use it, but will pick my nose and then shake someone's hand.
 
I think the answer is in the quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.  “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”   
 
Of course, nowadays, someone is always looking, which is all the more reason to behave.  Because you never know when the cart police will knock at your door, and justice will be swift.
 
 
 
 
Until next time, keep crowin' - and go the extra mile!



Monday, July 15, 2013

Gone Fishin'

After having already decided not to take a family vacation this summer, due to lack of time and funds, I changed my tune.  The tornado, plus a week with four children in my care - my niece (7) and nephew (1) came to stay - I decided a get-away was, in fact, possible. 

Of course, it was 4th of July week, so there was nothing available within a 500-mile radius.  It took a few days of pulling my hair out to finally find just the spot - a private home in a gated community at a beach that I had never heard of.

We made the 5+ hour trek and rolled up on our oasis.  It was a lovely house, and we quickly settled in. The kids picked their rooms, we unpacked the food, and I got dinner started.  My husband poured himself a cold one and headed out to the screened porch to breathe in the fresh air.  The kids soon joined him, and once I had the bread in the oven, I walked out the door to sit with my family and enjoy some quiet time. 

As I closed the door behind me, I heard a click click.

Now, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, or if you know me personally, there are several things you can assume from this sound.

1.  It was not the sound of pennies raining down from heaven.
2.  It was the sound of us getting locked out of the house.

We realized immediately that there was no hope of re-entry.  All doors and windows were locked, and we were on the 2nd floor of the house.  Further, I had on neither shoes nor bra, having shed them both in the glory of freedom.

Being in a private neighborhood, we had few options.  We could start yelling for help, my husband could jump, or we could break down a door or window.  Before I pushed my husband over, fate intervened.

The Security golf cart came puttering by, and I waved the lady down.  After visiting a few of the neighbors, looking either for a screwdriver or a key, she found John, our guardian angel.  John had a key to the house.  John also kept the lawn for the owner, had some connections to our home town, and ran a business putting faces on tiles and lazy susans in case we were interested.  And as we would find out the next day, John also knew how to fix air conditioners.

All of that, and I didn't even burn the bread.

Several things struck me about our little Utopia:

 
The shopping. Must have been closed for the holidays.
The wildlife.  Here we have a two-headed alligator walking on a fluorescent water-type substance.
The security.  It is so safe, you can't even jump in front of the sensor to exit the neighborhood.  Going on a run requires fitting through that triangular space.

The tides.  They appear to be out during the day.  This gave our fellow sunbathers a healthy walk to squat and pee in the sea.  It was a sight to behold, all day, like a continuous stream of birds floating on the ocean.

The sands.  They sink under your feet like butter and dry like pound cake on your shoes.
 
 
Yes, it was a fool's paradise, full of sights and sounds that we had never experienced before.  On our last day, we ventured beyond the gates and found a little miracle - a Swiss Family Robinson State Park that offered white sands and rolling waves for a small fee.  It was like being on a deserted island for a week and then realizing a resort was a mile down the road.
 

Ahhh ... much better!
 
I can just make out Pocahontas .....
 
Regardless of the hiccups, it was away, and that was all we needed.  Sometimes you just need to get out of your habitat and spread your wings to tame the inner wildlife within.  I have already started planning my next vacation - because, let's face it, I could use one.
 
Until next time, keep crowin'!
 


Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Deal

With summer in mid stroke, I think about when I was a kid, and these months off of school were a wide open field of carefree possibilities - the pool, friends, sleeping in, movies, ice cream, vacation, and lots of good old fashioned "down" time.  As an adult, summer isn't about hitting the pause button anymore.  Your employer doesn't skip June, July, and August so you can rest, and there is no school bus to take your kids to their activities. 

But still, we look forward to it because it symbolizes a slowing down, an opportunity to refresh your screen and get a new perspective.

I have definitely had a summer for the books so far.  Granted, there are books with more tragic and difficult stories, but since this is my blog, I will talk about mine. 

In the past, I have written about my backyard, and my love of the trees and the shade and privacy they provide.  That's my little oasis, my quiet place where I can breathe in the sun and lounge in arms of Mother Nature.

Until the tornado. 



 

Now that clean up is done, my yard looks like a shaved armpit with a bit of stubble.  And I suddenly have the ability to report on what the neighbors are cooking for breakfast and whether it is bath day in the big tub.

Am I lucky that no one was hurt?  Beyond belief.  Am I fortunate that my house and husband's car were not destroyed?  You bet.  And in light of those blessings, did I handle the dealings with neighbors and insurance and tree men and my do-it-yourself husband, in the most professional and positive manner?

Absolutely not.  I actually lost my mind, quite vocally, and then tried to commandeer a bobcat.

This photo has become known as The Determinator.

From that time on, anyone that came along, anything I was asked to do, any way the wind blew, I treated like a hostile witness.  The world was Tom Cruise and I was Jack Nicholson. 

Me: "You want answers?"
World: "I think I'm entitled."
Me: "You want answers?"
World: "I want the truth!"
Me: "You can't HANDLE the truth! ... My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall - you NEED me on that wall ...  I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a d*mn what you think you are entitled to!"
World: "Did you order the Code Red?"
Me: "YOU'RE G***AMNED RIGHT I DID!!!!!"

It got a little ugly.

And then it got better.

Because what goes down, must eventually come up.  Sooner or later, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize you look like Norma Desmond and are scaring the neighborhood cats. So, the sun fought against the clouds and won, helping me to snap out of it and make a refreshing cocktail with the lemons of life. 

I also I remembered something I already had in my arsenal that had been locked away --- that when used properly, a sense of humor can be your most powerful weapon against evil.

Some excellent examples that I have bookmarked are two letters from disgruntled airline passengers.  They express their nightmares in a way that not only gets the point across quite effectively, but also leaves the recipients of their complaints actually ... smiling.   Click here for the first place letter, and click here for second place.

And that, my friends, is how to deal. 

Until next time, keep crowin' - and let a smile be your umbrella.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

2 Miracles to Sainthood

Although I am not Catholic, I have a friend who is, and I have been doing some research on her behalf.  Because I am pretty sure that she may already qualify for sainthood - you just need two miracles and some beautifications.  And while my friend would cringe and deny and refuse to accept that title, I have been counting up miracles, and she fits the bill.

Every time we talk, she has an incredible story to tell.  Like the time her son witnessed a girl being bullied on the elementary school bus and then tormented himself over his failure to intervene.  He confided in a teacher about it, and the teacher's advice ("You did nothing wrong, but you missed an opportunity to do something right") marked a turning point in the young man's life.  He went on to defend the girl on the bus, to her parents' deep gratitude, and helped make a change.  He wrote about his experience for a prep school admission essay, and when his mom read it to me, I immediately offered my daughter's hand in marriage.

Fast forward a few years later, and the young man's brother became the victim of bullying on the same bus.  The bully?  The girl's brother.

Apparently, her experience was not as profound.

And that, I believe, is what tips the scales.  The willingness to receive the message, and the courage to change.

So what makes my friend a saint?  Well, in a nutshell, her experiences alter me, the way I look at life and at people.  It is easy to stop caring sometimes, when your feelings are hurt often enough, or a struggle is simply to big to overcome.  But she never gives up.  She never, ever gives up.

Her first miracle came in the form of a job.  She began working for a neighbor who is an attorney, operating out of his home office.  After taking the job, she soon learned he was going through a divorce and was quite the addict.  On the outside, one would never know she what she was enduring, and I didn't find out until 6 months in, when we were on the phone one rainy Sunday.

What came out of that conversation was that she had been called at home in the wee hours of the morning by this man, threatening suicide.  She had personally driven him to rehab and the mental hospital.  She had helped him through his DUI arrest - which occurred in her cul-de-sac - and she had handled his caseload when he was stoned out of his mind, without a smidgen of guidance. She had contacted his parents in another state - total strangers - to arrange for his after care.  At the time of our conversation, she had helped him move out of his home and was scheduling the cable TV hook up in his apartment.

After digesting detail after astounding detail, I finally said to my friend, "You have done more than any human being on the face of the earth would do.  At some point, he has to figure this out for himself.  You have sacrificed enough of yourself."  To which she replied, "I know.  But he has no one else."

She is his miracle.

Perhaps that's why, last week, when she and her two sons were driving down the road, they stopped for a young man who was panhandling in the median. Without a word, her older son rolled down the window and handed him money out of his own pocket.  They drove off, but could not shake the image - the homeless man seemed young and too well-dressed to be in this predicament.

Returning a short while later, they stopped and talked to him.  He saw the older son's t-shirt, advertising his prep school, and remarked that he had gone there as well.  Had the same coach for track too.  (My friend contacted the school - everything he said was true.). And over lunch, he explained that he was home from college and trying to start a new life, without family support or resources.

My friend gave this intelligent, polite man her husband's phone number, because he volunteers with a homeless ministry. All he has to do is make that call, and his life will change for the better. So far, he hasn't.

It's a God-thing, when the right person is put in your path - you just have to see it.  It reminds me of this story:

This is a story of a man, who was a firm believer of God.
One day it began to rain very heavily. It kept raining and a big flood came.  The man climbed up on the roof of his house, and knew that he would be ok. God would protect him.
It kept raining and now the water had reached his waist. A boat came by and a guy in the boat said: “Hey, jump in. We will take you with us.”

"No thanks,” said the man. “I’m a firm believer in God. He will rescue me.” He sent the boat away.
It kept on raining and now the water had reached his neck. Another boat came by and a guy in the boat said: “You look like you could need some help. Jump in and we will take you with us.”
“No,” said the man. “I’m a firm believer in God. He will rescue me. Don’t worry about me.” The boat sailed away.
It still rained and the water now reached his mouth. A helicopter came by and a guy in the helicopter threw down a rope and said: “Hi there my friend. Climb up. We will rescue you.”

“No,” said the man. “I’m a firm believer in God. He will rescue me. I know he will.” The helicopter flew away.    

It kept on raining, and finally the man drowned.
When the man died, he went to heaven. When entering Heaven, he had an interview with God. After giving a polite greeting and sitting down, the man asked: “Where were you? I waited and waited. I was sure you would rescue me, as I have been a firm believer all my life, and have only done good to others. So where were you when I needed you?”

God scratched his confused looking face and answered: “I don’t get it either. I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

Do we miss the signs?

My friend's story was still fresh in my mind yesterday as I drove to Target in my little cocoon of a community.  It was 95 degrees outside, the wind felt like 155, and I was finishing some errands.  All of a sudden, I see a woman with a baby on the hot asphalt, begging for food and rent money.  On any given day, I may have passed her by. But because of my friend's example, I went into Target, got her a gift card, and then took it back her with water and bananas I had just bought at the grocery store. She thanked me and immediately gave her child the water. When I returned to Target I was shaking at the thought of that poor overheated baby, and the complete hopelessness in the woman's eyes.  I called my friend. I thanked her for being an example to me. And then I cried in the school supplies aisle.

So, by my count, that's three miracles, more than is needed for sainthood. The miracle of unconditional love, the miracle of charity, and the miracle of inspiration. She's as good as in.

Until next time, keep crowin'  - and take the rope!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Race Relations

I went running yesterday as part of the "Let's Do Better"campaign.  Today, I am hobbling around like a chimpanzee.  However, I am told that pain is gain, so my grimace is laced with optimism.

Anyway, I'm jogging along my usual path along the river in 90 degree heat, when I pass three women walking towards me wearing traditional Islamic garb.  They had on the hijab and jilbab - a head scarf and full robe, so that only your face is showing, as dictated by the Qur'an.  (Before you get impressed, yes, I Googled all that.) 

It was an unexpected sight in my corner of the world, but shouldn't be treated as such. And I am so sensitive to discrimination that I worry I go too far in the other direction.  Like shaking someone's hand extra hard or snorting at a lame joke, just to show "we're all one people." 

So, when I saw these three Muslim women walking along the path, I evaluated my choices. 

1.  Ignore them to show, Hey! No biggie!
2.  Smile at them to show I respect them (but is that over-eager?)
3.  Turn around and run away. 

Luckily, on the first pass, my choice was made for me.  I have the luxury of transitional lenses, so they couldn't see my eyes looking away behind my glasses.  But it didn't matter, because I was focused on the pretty little starbursts floating in front of me.

However, when I turned around and ran the other way, there they were.  Feeling like an idiot, I looked up, made eye contact with the one on the end, and smiled.  She smiled back.

It was a nice moment.  She wasn't judging me for running around in shorts with my muffin top jiggling out, and I wasn't judging her for wearing all black on a hot summer day. 

My thoughts turned to a movie I had seen with my daughter the night before. We joined 170 other women and girls for a screening of Girl Rising (http://girlrising.com/), a movie that depicts the impact of education on girls in third world countries.  One of the themes of the movie was that while there wasn't hope for the adults in those countries, the children still had a chance.

I disagreed.  I think, I HOPE, that grown-ups can always find a way to do better, and to prevail. Granted, I can't compare my life to that of a family living in squalor, surviving on scraps found in a landfill.  I will never know that type of suffering, nor will I ever be able to comprehend it.  What I am referring to is the human spirit, that thing that keeps you digging in the dirt, pushing forward when the world is pushing back even harder.

I was riding that high, thinking about that lofty goal, when I logged on to Facebook.  Here is what was posted by a resident on my neighborhood's group page:

Neighborhood watch. On May 15 at one thirty in the afternoon, I saw a tall (six foot three) mulatto man walking west on Forest Pond drive. His hair was short and he had a trimmed beard. He wave at me and I waved at him. He was carrying a small green box in his hand.

Dear God, call the troops.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I thought about my niece and nephew.  Two absolutely beautiful, amazing children, who have a white mother and black father.  I called my sister-in-law and asked her, "How do you feel about the term mulatto?"  I was told immediately and without pause that she and her husband did not care for it AT ALL.

So, I replied to the post, just behind my friend who, having my back, posted as well.

My Friend:  "I'm just curious, why was this cause for concern?"
Me:  "Coming from a mixed race family, I am trying to understand where the concern is? Is it possible he lives here or was visiting someone? Also the term mulatto is not widely accepted."

Four people "liked" my comment, but here is the response I received from another resident:

Neighbor:  "I would be concern if it were not a familiar face, mulatto, green, white or black, walking around our neighborhood. We have a sign in from of the neighborhood NO SOLICTORS. Lived in New Bedford for 27 years and am cognizant of anyone walking around that I don't know and still don't know all my neighbors. Caution is good thing. I don't know (name withheld), but appreciate his concern. Caution is a good thing."

When I saw this response, I evaluated my choices.

1. Ignore him so I don't stoop to his level.
2. Correct his usage of "concern" and "from" and spelling of "solicitors."
3. Remind him that it is not easy being green.

As of this moment, I have picked #1.  Not because I am afraid of a fight or am complacent, but because Rome wasn't built in a day.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I can't assume that this is a case of racial profiling.  What I CAN assume is that neither of these neighbors, who happen to be white, have ever been black men.  So, they can't understand what they don't know.  And I will continue to voice MY opinion until my brother-in-law isn't afraid to walk down his own street at night in his own neighborhood, for fear of the police being called.

And yes, I realize that I have never been a black man, either.  However, I have discovered a DNA test for 99 dollars that can tell me if I have ever been a black woman. And I can't wait to find out.  Because, in truth, on the outside, we may all look different, but our innards are the same.  How wonderful would it be to spend more time acknowledging our sameness, rather than our differences?

Until next time, keep crowin' and caring.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writer's Block

It has been one month and one day since I have written anything, and that is wrong for so many reasons.  It means I haven't made time for it, haven't been inspired, or haven't found myself that interesting.

I will say that life has overwhelmed me the last month.  It is very hard to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere after a zen-like, Utopian week of Spring Break.  We have a place we go that is truly my Disney World.  No people, no cars, no schedules.  I wish everyone could have that type of escape.

Coming back to the real world was shocking.  Like having your hair pulled out by your roots during a deep sleep.  I really am ready to retire, but since my kids are only 13 and 10, that's not an option.

I hit a few walls upon re-entry, and re-evaluated some things.  The older I get, the more often I have these "what needs fixing" talks with myself.  So, I looked at work, volunteer, and miscellaneous.

I can't quit work because it is part of the household income.  But, I was letting work dictate my schedule, rather than the other way around.  Being self-employed is great, until you realize you never clock out.  For instance, my biggest client sent me an assignment at 5:00 p.m. one day for an entire web site project that was due by the following morning. 

Did I stay up until 1:00 a.m. to finish it?  Yes, I did. 

Idiot.

But, I 'yam what I 'yam.  Can't help it.  However, I can complain about it and get some more money for it, which I did.  And then I created a production request system so that it wouldn't happen again.

Another wall was my volunteer work.  This year, I was in charge of the food/supply drives at my son's elementary school.  We collected items for underprivileged students in our area, and it was the best volunteer job I've ever had.  I met some amazing people - the librarian who ran a book fair all by herself, the assistant principal who started a food pantry for his families, the students who saw us roll in boxes and got excited about soup. 

I loved this job, but the loading, sorting and hauling was killing my back.  And after 11 visits to physical therapy, my insurance company cut me off because, according to them, I wasn't getting better.  Or, maybe they thought I was pathetic.  Either way, I had to give up the heavy lifting.

Then there was my Presidency with the theater awards group.  As is so often the case in my life, what began as a hobby became a career, and suddenly I'm in charge.  I stepped up to the plate because someone else was having a nervous breakdown.  But, they are doing better now, and so I rinsed off the plate and handed it back.  No more Presidency.

As for the miscellaneous, well, I'm working on it.  I realize I am a flawed human being. Every day, I wake up and tell myself, "Let's do better today."  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.  And sometimes God or Karma or Publix step in to remind me to try harder.  Like when the cashier said to me after scanning my purchases, "Wine is wine, right?  Doesn't matter how much it costs if it tastes good."

I didn't know a person with a custom wheelchair seat and meth-induced drawl could also moonlight as a sommelier, but far be it from me to judge.  Must be one of those Up With People programs.

At any rate, I have every intention of getting my groove back.  Not sure how I will do it, but it's on the agenda.  And if I'm smart, it will be a top priority.

Until then, keep crowin' and don't lose sight of yourself.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sweating the Small Stuff

I walked into the physical therapy office the other day at 12:55 pm, and when I started signing in, I noticed the person before me had written 12:57.  Now, human nature would be to write 12:58 and have a seat, but I didn't get there at 12:58.  I got there at 12:55 and I wanted credit for those three minutes.  So, I wrote 12:55 and complimented myself on my punctuality.

Now, before you think I am pillar of accuracy, I will freely admit that when running late to the pediatrician, I have interpreted their office clock to be a minute or two fast at check in.  'Cause that's different.  Those minutes could mean the difference between waiting 15 minutes for a room, or being labeled late and waiting 45.

Which got me to thinking - is the devil in the details?

I certainly think so. Consider last week when I went to the antique store to buy a pre-lit Christmas tree ($55 for a 6-footer, thank you very much.)  As the store owner and I chatted, she inquired as to my occupation, and determined that I was exactly who she needed to help her redesign her website.  We talked turkey, and made an appointment to compare calendars.  And just when I had convinced myself that I could handle a new client, she released a giant fart cloud over my head.  "So," she says, "I barter, and for this service, I can give you a dining table."

Yeah, no. I don't think the power company accepts Lazy Susan's as a form of payment, so that bird won't fly.  Would have been nice if she'd led with that tidbit, but I suspect she's done this before.

Then there was Reservation-Gate at a XXXX restaurant.  I was planning a surprise party for my daughter's 13th birthday.  I emailed the owner - no reply. I called the restaurant - was told a manager would need to call me.  No call.  I physically walked into the restaurant at 11:00 am one day.

Stupid Hostess In Training: "We're not open."
Me: "I am not here to eat. I need to confirm a reservation."
SHIT: "Take this business card and email us."
Me: "I have done that. I want someone to call me."
SHIT: "OK, what's your name and number?" Writes it in dry erase marker on a menu.  Upon hearing my name, "Oh yeah. You're here in the computer, see?"
Me: "Thank you."  And a pox on your house.

So, that weekend, the surprise goes off without a hitch, and now everyone is seated and enjoying the moment.  My cell phone rings.

"This is SHIT at XXXX and we are wondering if you are still planning to come in tonight.  Your reservation was for 6:30 and we haven't seen you yet."

Mother of God.

So I walk up to the hostess stand and there she is with two underlings.  

Me: "I just got a message asking me if I am going to honor my reservation.  I am here."
SHIT: "Oh, well, when you changed the number in your party it caused a problem and you actually have 2 reservations in the sys- ME: "I. AM. HERE."
Underling: "And we're so glad you are!! :) :) :) 

I walked away, and then smiled brightly when SHIT was called into serve me my meal.

Details.  They are important.  And just like a misplaced comma, they could mean the difference between someone's life, or death.  (i.e., Let's eat, Grandpa vs. Let's eat Grandpa).

Let's not eat Grandpa.  Let's care about details and get them right.  Except when it's not convenient for me, of course.

Until next time, keep crowin'!


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Phys Ed

Being tall and gangly for much of my life, I have had to deal with the expectation that I was naturally good at tall-people things, when, in fact, I was not.  Basketball, Volleyball, Modeling, Light-bulb changing - I never broke the glass ceiling.

And I didn't even try.  I admit it, I was never loyal to my tribe. For instance, I got paired romantically with the tallest boy in middle school, because I guess no one knew what else to do with us. We dated for about a week in January, but when he tried to put his arm around me, I told him I had a sunburn and that was the end of it.

Also in middle school, I was put on the basketball team, only to last 2 practices, due to asthma --- and lack of ability. My physical peak was the girls' PE dance to "Jump" by Van Halen.

In high school, I made the tennis team, but my coach told everyone that I was "sorry" due to "the asthma" that kept me out of practice.

In adulthood, I again joined a tennis team, only to break my foot during the second practice.  I even tried training for a half marathon, but my body hit 6 miles and said "you must be high."

Being tall was my destiny, not athletics.

And as the years have gone on, my body has continued to disagree with me, to the point that I am now in Physical Therapy.  And I hate it.  The therapist is nice, but the tech is a punk that smacks gum and leaves me alone to check things off a piece of paper after he explains the exercises.

After my second day of PT, I met a friend right after for lunch at Whole Foods.  She was about to start a new job and this was our chance to catch up before she got really busy.  As we stood in line to pay for our salads, I heard a voice behind me:

"Women should never be taller than men."

I pivoted around to look down and see a shorter, older, African-American man smiling up at me. Before I could process his comment, he continued, touching me on the arm while he said:

"Men don't like women who are tall.  We like to be in charge.  Women lie and make us think we're the boss, but they control it all.  My son just got married and his whole den was in a New York theme, and his wife got rid of it all."

Yep, this is my life.  I'm a magnet. So, I told him that tall women loved being tall and in control.  And then it was time to pay for my salad.

As my friend and I sat down, we laughed about how weird things always happened when we were together.  And then the man sat at the table next to us, so that I was diagonal to him and couldn't avoid eye contact.   He got up a few times to fidget around, and then came back to our table.

Him:  "I've got to ask you - what is your nationality?"
Me: "Caucasian, as far as I know."
Him: "With your dark skin and eyes, you've got some Sister in you."

Am I on Candid Camera?  Or is it time to pay for the full membership to Ancestry.com?

To his credit, the man didn't zero in on me.  He proceeded to visit every table with females, and even flag down a car in the parking lot with a woman driver.  But, despite his wide range of tastes in the opposite sex, he managed to identify my two truths - Number One, I am Very Tall, and Number Two, I might not be Caucasian.

So, where do I go from here?  Well, nowhere.  I still have the asthma, I am not shrinking - yet, and with summer approaching I won't get any paler.  It is what it is, until I find out otherwise.

I have Physical Therapy tomorrow and have not done my exercises. But I will lie to the tech and say I did, and he will keep chewing his gum and the world will go round.  And I will still be a giant black woman.

Until next time, keep crowin'!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Let's Get Real

So, I am volunteering at the middle school front office, having a lovely morning, as always, with the women that work there.  One was absent, so a male teacher came up during his free period to do paperwork at her empty desk.  Unusual choice, so someone asked him why:

Someone: "Anthony, what are you doing up here?"
Anthony: "I came up here to hang out with the East Cobb Housewives."

In case you are wondering, he was referring to me.

Me: "Who you calling a housewife?!"

Because I took offense.  Look, I am a wife and I have a house.  Lots of women do. But I am not this: 

 
That is what "housewife" means to me.  It connotes home-bound, or subservient, or Stepford.  There are millions of women who do not work, but they are not housewives.  They are many interesting things, ranging from partners, mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, volunteers, friends, managers, nurturers, hobbyists ... but they are not just that one thing.  And that's why I hate the term.

I happen to work from home, which means I have the flexibility to volunteer. I also happen to be a terrible cook and cleaner.  When my husband comes home from work, I am in sweats and a ponytail.  But I can buy a birthday present like a motherf*$@er.  Ain't no housewife here.

What Anthony found out later in the conversation is that I went to the same prestigious college as his brother and sister-in-law, that I have a quick wit and excellent customer service skills, and that he has a small penis.

It's OK.  Women are used to getting a bad rap.  We're damned for being career-minded and we're damned for being family-minded.  And if you even attempt to do both, well, then you better have a good pharmacist.

I love that we live in a world where women get to choose.  And I can't wait for Anthony's 2-year-old daughter to give him a run for his money.

Until next time, keep crowin'!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

That Kid

I admit it.  I was "that parent" on Sunday.  I was the mom that picked up my kid early from church, hustled her to her lacrosse game, became indignant at the injustices during said game, and when it was over, grumbled to myself (and my husband) about her amount of playing time.  And while, on the outside, she and I talked constructively about her goals and how she could work with the coach to meet those goals, on the inside, I was still steaming.  I wanted her to get a fair shake. I wanted her to get noticed by the coaches.  I wanted her to stand out for her talents and abilities.

And then I realized - she already does. 

Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that my prayers for my children are not that they be the best athletes or students, but that they be the best people.  My goal isn't to raise Olympians but humanitarians and philanthropists and nurturing souls.  And I do forget that sometimes in the heat of battle.

My daughter was very ill last fall, and still showed up to team try-outs.  She could barely stand up straight.  The coach took one look at her and sent her home, and gave her another chance later to join the team.  She couldn't make it to practice one day because of a fever, and still had me drive her to the field to explain to the coach that she would not let him down.

That's a win, people.

I can also see that commitment with my son.  He will fly through the air and take a hit before he will let go of a play.  He doesn't miss an opportunity to congratulate another player for a good move.  And he makes sure we pray for the homeless every night at dinner.

Nothing can beat that.

They may not be the best at everything they do. There will be others that score more goals, get better grades, and earn more accolades.  But if my kids continue to show commitment, sportsmanship, and care for their fellow human, I'm good.

That day at church that I was in such a rush to leave, they were wrapping up a youth retreat, and a visiting band sang one of my favorite songs:

My God's not dead
He's surely alive
He's living on the inside
Roaring like a lion.

While I strive as a mother to live those lines and to encourage that godliness in my children, I will always need gentle reminders.  And so, I draw inspiration from the lions in the videos below.









God bless the children that press on, though their bodies and minds hold them back.  And God bless the children that see their perseverance, and reward their spirit with personal sacrifice, so that they may know a moment of success.

Amen.

Until next time, keep crowin'!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Covered Dish Pot Luck Casserole Surprise

Everyone has a love language.  For some, it's random acts of kindness.  For others, it's a hug and a kiss.  And for Southern women, it's supper in a Tupperware with our names written on the bottom in Sharpie.

I can't think of a celebration, tragedy, family holiday or neighborhood gathering of any kind that does not involve food.  My memories of childhood can be bookmarked by homemade chicken and dumplings, fried mullet, collard greens and pound cake.  On my mother's side, all events involved miles of tables filled with food, as evidenced in the photo below.

Look how cute I am.

In those days, everything was homemade from scratch.  One simply did not show up with a store-bought pie.  Not only would you shame The Aunts with your lack of cooking know-how, but you were clearly stating that you didn't love the family enough to try.  Our matriarchs lived on the same street and did that type of cooking every day.  If they went to a restaurant in their small town, it was to the Women's Club or somewhere that served food just like theirs.  Aunt Leona hadn't even tried pizza until age 90.

So how did food become equal to love?  I know, for me, it's sometimes the only thing I can do to help a loved one.  A death in the family?  Let me bring you dinner.  Going through chemotherapy?  I'll be by at 6:00 with soup.  Bunion surgery?  That calls for barbecue.

Because if our mouths are filled with food, then we don't have to admit our helplessness, that we don't know what to say or do.  It feeds our need to fix a problem, even though deep down we know we can't.  And because the meal is not just food, but an expression of love, it has to be perfect.  That is why --- and I can say this now because enough people have passed since the above photo ---- I order out.

It's not that I can't cook.  I can.  I pull out the big guns on the holidays, and spend hours on casseroles that invoke the days of old.  BUT, I am a one-trick pony the rest of the year, and my kids take bets on how many nights each week they'll be served chicken with rice with beans. Or that Dad is cooking.

The reason I turn to Super Suppers Family Style Gourmet To Go is directly tied to The Aunts' disdain for such things.  Failure is not an option, the stakes are high, and everyone is watching.  So, rather than falter, I'm going with the winning horse and take my trot in champion's row. 

In the beginning, it was a secret.  I would buy cookies at the store and then put them on my own plate, and when people asked for the recipe, I said I would try to find it.  But as I got older, I learned to be OK with my truth, that while pie baking and sock darning skills bubbled up in my gene pool like a geyser, they clearly skipped over me and splashed down onto the next generation.  My 10-year-old son is a better baker than me, and yet, I can still sleep at night. 

Food brings people together, and better yet, it keeps us at the table.  Doesn't matter how it gets there, and just like a secret, it's much more delicious when shared.

Until next time, keep crowin' and learn to speak Take-Out!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Emergency Auxiliary Services

Remember "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?"  It was a short story published by James Thurber in 1939 and then turned into a movie with Danny Kaye in 1947.  It tells the tale of a regular Joe who spends his time daydreaming about an exciting alternate universe, full of danger and heroics and adventure.  He is not the boring old man who watches life from a desk chair, but the military general, the wrangler, the renegade.

If only.  I sometimes think that I am the Mrs. Walter Mitty.  If you could see what I have accomplished in my "other life," you would be duly impressed.

Today, the tornado sirens went off in our neighborhood for hours, starting at 8:00 a.m. While my kids were engaged in duck and cover at their schools and my friends were in their basements, I fearlessly kept typing away on my computer, taking calls from my boss.

Boss: How's the weather your way?
Me: Well, the sirens are going off.  But I'm not scared.
Boss:  OK. So, getting back to this eblast ....

Courage! And yet, no tornado appeared.  My mettle was not tested by a flying house, and I did not get to save Oz.

Two days ago, my good friend and neighbor was lucky enough to be on the scene for a car fire.  Ah, how I wish it had been me!  She got the news of the fire, ran outside, triaged the situation and grabbed her fire extinguisher.  There she was, with a guy named Larry, squirting foam on an overheated van.  The drama!  The adrenaline!  She was even there for the fire trucks and big hose.

And I missed it.  No hero's parade or honorary badge for me.

One of my greatest regrets is not becoming a Police Woman of Atlanta.  I could do it, I know I could.  Never tell me no.  My college boyfriend told me I couldn't handle being sorority President, and so I didn't run, and guess where he is now?  Who knows, but I bet it is somewhere very, very bad.  And I am President of Something (truly, I am - visit MAT AWARDS).

But I never pursued the police business, because if I can't even watch a scary movie, how am I going to be a cop?  I once considered joining the Citizen's Police Academy, but I lazied out.  And then I was in the car last weekend with my daughter's new lacrosse coaches, and guess what?  One of them was in the POLICE RESERVES OF OHIO!  A volunteer police department where he got to go on foot chases and stake outs and make arrests and such.  I practically salivated over his stories.

Sigh.  What is it that appeals to me about natural disasters and violent crimes?  What is in my nature that is itching to get out and save the world?  Like poor Walter Mitty, I can't pull the trigger, and am  left with only my dreams.

This won't stop me from always being on high alert.  Like the Bloodhound Gang from 3-2-1 Contact (google it pre-70's babies) or Dr. Who, I am always ready for adventure.  Always available to call 911.  Because they know me.

So into the blind wild I go ... hoping for a big moment, just like Walter.

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Until next time, keep crowin' and looking for trouble!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Upside Down Frowns

My friends and I are at an age where sometimes the roof caves in - we have personal health decisions to make or a parent suddenly needs our care or a friend hits the wall and needs help getting back up.  Several of my friends in the neighborhood are dealing with such things, and I struggle with how to help.  Of course, a listening ear, a home-cooked meal, or childcare is always on the list.

But, since laughter is apparently the best medicine, I would like to offer some things that have made me happy.  Maybe they won't elicit a smile at first, but when someone needs to lighten the darkness, I hope they'll bookmark these gems.


When you are having a bad day, a clever prank can chase the clouds away, and freak some people out in a funny way:





Need inspiration?  How about one of those unexpected, amazing reality show auditions, where the human spirit triumphs:




And, I'm sorry, but if Ellen Degeneres doesn't do it for you, then I'm out of tricks: 



That's it, that's all I've got today.  Sometimes - all the time - life is about the people around you, and finding a way to be a blessing where one is needed.  I hope that when the people in my life hit hard times, they know they can count on me.

Until next time, keep crowin'!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nu Beta

Happy New Year!  I'm a bit late with these greetings because I have been as sick as a dog for the last week.  It has circulated around my family since December 21, and now, on January 8, we are still sniffling and hacking.

And while Christmas itself may have been a germ fest, luckily we were all well enough for a big trip we had planned for New Year's.  We took four neighborhood families for four days to my parents' mountain house in North Carolina. 

It was refugee-style living as we put each family unit into a bedroom and left them to their own devices.  There were children in closets, mamas on the floor, and lots of overlap on the sofa.

The trip itinerary included skiing and tubing.  Now, there are two things my friends learned about me on this trip. 

1.  I don't liked to be touched.
2.  I am afraid of heights.

I overcame the close quarters because we were with such jovial company.  The heights, thing, however, was another story.

On the day of skiing, I rode with the pack to the lodge.  I filled out the waiver and got my boots on.  I walked to the bucket and got my poles.  And then I stood, ski's in hand, and watched all of the children, ages 3-13, take the beginner class.  My compadres, however, jumped on the lift and started their day of flying down the mountain. 

As the sun hit mid-sky, I summoned up my courage and took the ramp up the bunny slope.  Time to face the demon.  I slowly shuffled my way over to a quiet patch, and looked in the belly of the beast.  Several times before, beginning in high school, I had put on those death shoes and debated the pros and cons of going down ice on a toothpick, but never had I actually taken the plunge.  And I was still wearing the yellow ski jacket that I had in high school, albeit a little snug and out-dated now, which had never felt the rush of wind across its sleeves.

On this day, I tried a little sideways trial run at the top of the hill, and after encouragement from the children and my husband, and with a very deep breath, I took off my skis and headed back down the hill.

No way, José.

Just ain't going to happen.  And my friends made it OK.  They asked me if I was good, if all was well, and then they acted like this little phobia thing was no big deal.

The touching thing, however, they had a ball with.  They decided to apply pressure treatments on a regular basis, and would sit on me or give me big hugs or squeeze my toes.  And then there was the farting.  Lots of gas encroached upon my personal space on this trip, but I won't name names.

Because when you are in a fraternity of brothers, you don't rat anyone out.  You don't post on Facebook the photo of a skinny man in a jock strap or tell people who burped like a sailor.  You have secret handshakes and passwords, and you help each other's kids get breakfast.  And you pretend not to notice each other's crazy parts.

It was one of those trips that could have gone sour very quickly, 17 men, women and children in a small space.  But it didn't.  It actually went incredibly well, and we all kept marvelling at that fact.

You see, I live in a neighborhood that has become an exception to any rule.  We have made so many friends with other couples, and our kids count their best friends among the cul-de-sacs.  It is stronger than any college sorority, and as wild as any fraternity.  I call us Nu Beta, which pays homage to our neighborhood initials.

All are welcome. We hold rush each summer poolside, and if you can handle sangria in the daytime and enjoy dancing to hip-hop on weekends, you could be our next pledge.  So brush up on your card games and come on by.

Until next time, keep crowin'!