Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Legacy of a Mean Girl

She was a mean girl, full of bitter, angry,
I'm-not-even-going-to-bother-talking-behind-your-back,
Bold meanness.

"Whacha lookin' at, B? You gotta problem?
Maybe I oughta come over and pound your ugly face.
Doubt it can get any uglier."

I never heard her laugh
Unless it was at someone,
Drawing attention to out-of-style jeans,
Hair that refused to lay flat,
New glasses, or a flake of dry skin on someone's nose.
An innocent flake, instantly deemed a booger--
A booger that by the end of the day,
Everyone would know about.

Her voice was siren-red,
Offering  fair warning
But never allowing escape.
Its shrill, ear-bending reverberations 
Captivated bystanders, who couldn't help but be drawn  in
By the carnage left behind in her critical wake.

I often wondered how someone could be so full of
Hate-filled, over-the-top, animal-sneering meanness...

Then, one day, while in the office
Getting a Tylenol,
I overheard her mother talking at to
Mrs. Carter, the nicest secretary
God ever placed behind a desk.

After that day, I have never again wondered how
Hate-filled, over-the-top, animal-sneering
Mean girls are created.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Funny Ha Ha or Funny Awkward? You Decide.



Funny ha ha or funny awkward...

Like the time you were bragging to a friend about being rude to your mother, only to realize Mom was listening in on your teenage phone conversation. "Yeah, my mom was pretty pissed off and got all mad, but now she's trying to be all buddy, buddy with me..." [click] "You still there?"
"Chris, that wasn't me.  I think it came from your house..."

Like at your twenty year reunion when an ex-bf adamantly apologized to you about something rude he apparently said to you at the ten year reunion and you spent the rest of the night trying to imagine what he could have said about you that had prompted ten years of guilt.

Like the time you got home from work and looked in the mirror only to see that a button had come undone and your not so conservative leopard-print bra was conspicuously beckoning from your blouse.

Like the time you got whiplash by hitting a parking block in the high school parking lot because you were trying to spin donuts, not realizing that you had front-wheel drive and should have been doing them in reverse.

Like the time you supported and even engaged in a colleague's rant, only to realize that your family member was the target of the discussion. "You two are sisters?!"

Like the Valentine's Day you drew a funny nude self-portrait for your husband (complete with “strategically placed” Hershey's Kisses), only to have your “salt of the earth” mother-in-law come across it and erupt in uncontrollable laughter, calling it “cute.”

Like the time you realized that the customer smirking at you in your check-out line was someone you had made out with in college on a dare and all of your current co-workers were watching him as he had now returned to embarrass you by recollecting your previous encounter.

Like the time you got half way through the day before realizing you were wearing one brown boot and one black.

Like the time you used the word 'supposively' in a college essay because you had been using the word your entire life and Word Perfect spell check just didn't know anything.

Like the time you tried to sell D-Con to a gentlemen who was looking for “rattin' tablets” (writing tablets) and manure to the nice Spanish speaker who just wanted a money order.

Like the time you questioned the gentleman coming out of the stall, only to realize that it was you who was in the wrong restroom.

C'mon, share some of your "funny" moments with me in the comments, so I don't feel like such a moron!

Note to Self: Don't be a Double Dumper


Are you a sip stealer? Or worse, a double dumper? Do you drive barefoot? How 'bout braless? (I’ll bet you didn’t even know that one of these is grounds for a citation). If you’ve ever been a little deceptive, did you justify your actions by referring to yourself as an “opportunist” rather than a liar? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you are a dishonest slouch. Just kidding. Well, sort of.

In a society which encourages self-promotion and looking out for number one, it is sometimes easy to abandon our moral character, even momentarily, in order to make our lives a little easier. We “euphemize” this, we rationalize that, and before we know it--BAM! We are down-right-total-jerks. And I don’t know about you, but I know enough of those. So, in order to do my part and help reign-in what President Bush might call our country’s, kinda crazy and outta control standards, I would like to address two dishonesty rituals which are, to me, the most intriguing: sip stealing, and double dumping.

Sip stealing has become such a common practice in this country that it is the subject of a recent t.v. commercial which points out that sip stealing is not a felony in any of the fifty states. The vivid portrayal even goes so far as to show a teenage boy engaging in this seemingly harmless practice at a self-serve soda fountain. He serves...he sips...he serves...he sips, eventually walking away, leaving the topless cup without an owner. What’s worse is that the ad fails to show the restaurant worker who is then required to refill the syrup in the soda machine three-point-five-seconds sooner than he would have needed to otherwise. Did you hear that? Three-point-five-seconds! That’s the same amount of time it would have taken the worker to fill the customer’s cup in the first place!#@*!

So, what about the innocent people who are affected by the selfish acts of the sip stealer? Who’s looking out for them, huh? Sure, it might seem like a trivial breech of honesty, but think about it. They are not only stealing soda. They are stealing others’ precious time!

Moving on to yet another peevish practice...
I have been wanting to speak to the issue of double dumping ever since I realized it was taking place in my neighborhood. Yes, I hate to admit it, but there are some of my friends and associates who are guilty of this less-than-honest practice on a weekly basis. Ironically, it all begins late, Sunday evening. First, they overstuff their gagillion gallon garbage cans full of the week’s trash. Next, they use the wheels (which are provided for their convenience, mind you) to roll their cans across the street for the early-morning pick up. Then, around nine o’clock the following morning, they tiptoe (usually barefoot) across the street, and, using the same wheels of convenience, roll their garbage cans back to their own curb for the afternoon pick up. Now, I know they are probably tiptoeing because their feet are cold on the morning-chilled concrete, but it gives such a sneaky, deceptive appearance that I can hardly bear to watch it. Thank goodness my kids are in school when it all takes place! I would hate to try and explain to them how ones integrity can be easily discarded for eight bucks—the price of a second trash can in our city.

Now, I know that every day is filled with moral dilemmas for each of us. I just hope the next time you are faced with one, you will ask yourself this question: Am going to I let my integrity slip away, sip by sip, or will I dump it--one load at a time? You can also take a less sentimental approach by asking yourself, Just how big of a jerk am I?

P.S. Barefoot driving is grounds for citation in some states--bras, completely optional in all fifty.

The Eleventh Commandment--A memoir written December 2008

The 11th Commandment

The Coercion

“C’mon,” I coaxed. “Nobody else is home. This might be our only chance, and I promise, no one else will know...just you and me.” My brother Todd and I were home alone while my parents were out celebrating the holidays with friends. Christmas was quickly approaching and I was trying to convince my younger sibling that peeking at hidden presents was not a capital offense. Several of my classmates at school had been bragging about the fact that they had already peeked and knew every gift they would receive in the upcoming weeks. Chris Treat was getting a bike, Monica Iubelt, a hoard of new clothes, and Kyle Foye, new weights. What was the big deal? Everybody peeks, right? These were just a few of the feeble arguments I used to persuade Todd to go along with my mischievous plan, and fortunately, they worked!
“Okay,” he reluctantly agreed, “but you have to swear you won’t say anything – even after Christmas is over.” The hint at my inability to keep a secret did not go unnoticed, but I was thrilled that he was willing to comply.
“Promise,” I assured him, and watched as Todd’s disposition changed from that of a hesitant third grader, to one of cool, calculated naughtiness.
“Let’s go.”

The Discovery

As we made our way down the dark hallway, my legs began to tremble, my heart began to pound, and my stomach jumped into my throat. I couldn’t believe what we were about to do! Snooping in our parents’ bedroom was like breaking the 11th commandment in our home. And although it was never stated, Thou shall not sneak, peek, or shriek! was my mother’s unspoken motto for this time of year, and we were about to defy her creed, completely–on all counts.
“Where’s the light?” I asked, using an unnecessary whisper.
“How would I know?” Todd replied. Mom and Dad’s closet had been off limits since the beginning of time, so none of us five Cluff children were familiar with its configurations. All we knew was that it housed numerous pairs of shoes, a myriad of outfits from the last three decades, and most importantly, our Christmas presents.
“Found it!” I exclaimed as I flicked on the light.
The initial shock of entering the prohibited territory was overwhelming at first, but surprisingly, it didn’t last long. We quickly went about our business, separating clothes, moving boxes, and lifting up the quilts that had been strategically placed in the corners of the forbidden cavern--all the while ignoring the thick, mothball-laden air that weighed heavily on our lungs and burned our eyes. Then it happened. A simultaneous, “Huuuuuh!” filled the air as Todd and I spotted the shiny, white box at exactly the same time. At first we were speechless, but when we imagined ourselves playing Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Asteroids, our excitement could not be contained. Yes! Our parents had bought us Atari–the newest, coolest, first-of-its-kind game system of the eighties! It was the gift of all gifts.
“We got Atari! We got Atari!” the two of us shrieked in disbelief as we tripped over one another, spilling out of the closet and landing in a pile on the floor. In a split second we were back on our feet, exhibiting a grand display of high fives, fist pumps, and screams of amazement. There were no more whispers, just sheer elation as we hugged one another and jumped around the room like a couple of crazed monkeys in a cage.
When our collaborative fit of hysteria finally ended, we regained our composure and carefully returned the blankets, clothes, and boxes to their undisturbed state so that Mom and Dad would never know we had been in their bedroom. Then, just as it had minutes prior, the closet door scraped along our parents’ blue shag carpet, and with the click of the door latch our adventure ended. Mission accomplished.
With feverish haste, my accomplice and I made our way back to the kitchen, vowing to never tell another soul what had just happened. Christmas was only weeks away. Even I could keep my mouth shut for that length of time. We were home free.

The Revelation

As the smells of Christmas morning filled the air, our family proceeded with our traditional procedures. We all met at the end of the hall and once everyone had fulfilled the requisite teeth-brushing, hair-combing, picture-readying ritual, we walked to the living room together. No one was allowed to snoop around in the front room without waiting for the rest of the family. My parents never wrapped our big presents, so I expected that the Atari would be sitting out where it could be seen by all. My only job now was to act genuinely surprised as I rounded the corner. I couldn’t blow our cover now. Todd was depending on me.
“Wow! Cool,” I heard our older brother, Scott, exclaim upon entering the room. Thinking that he had discovered the gifts of all gifts, I ran over to see what he was looking at. To this day I cannot recall what he was so thrilled about, but I distinctly remember being disappointed that it wasn’t the Atari. In fact, the gift that Todd and I had seen in the closet was nowhere in sight. Could it have been for someone else? Or worse. Did my parents find out that we had peeked and taken it back? In a panic, I ran to the TV, hoping that the new game system was plugged in and ready to play. It wasn’t there either. With my heart pounding, I ran back into the living room, nearly knocking over the plate of half-eaten sugar cookies and empty glass of milk that Santa had left behind. Where could it be? I thought. Then it occurred to me to look in the one spot I had not yet considered–behind the tree.
Practically falling into the dried evergreen branches, I continued to snoop, the prick of pine needles poking through my flannel nightgown serving only as a moderate deterrent. Ignoring my discomfort, I pulled back a few tree limbs and caught a glimpse of a beautifully wrapped box. Without a doubt, it was the box we had discovered in our parents’ closet just weeks before. Jackpot!

The Hawk

“Todd!” I called, using a breathy whisper. “It’s right here. Look. The Atari is right here, under the tree. They hid it,” I proudly explained while pointing emphatically. As we continued to whisper and work ourselves into a much quieter version of our earlier peeking frenzy, I turned to jump from behind the tree and...froze. From across the living room I could see (and feel) my mother’s ice cold stare. With her hawk-like precision and her keen sense of motherly intuition, she had been suspiciously monitoring my every move throughout the morning. She had watched as I had painstakingly searched for the “missing” gift; she had watched me look by the TV, she had watched me snoop under the tree and presumptuously “re-discover” the gift of all gifts; and, she had watched as I eagerly summoned Todd and confidently pointed behind the tree, assuring him that the Atari system we had seen in the closet was indeed ours for the taking.
Then it happened. After looking away and trying to avoid my mother’s piercing glare, the petrified silence was finally broken. “I think somebody has been peeking!” she boldly exclaimed.
And with that, I knew we were officially busted.
“Way to go, Chris,” my brother muttered.
“Sorry,” I mumbled back, admitting that I had--not surprisingly--blown our cover, yet again.

Lesson Learned

Throughout the day, Todd and I watched as our older siblings enjoyed playing Pac-man, Asteroids, and Space Invaders. We were grounded from the Atari as punishment for our sneaking, peeking, and shrieking adventure and made to promise that we would never snoop in our parents’ closet again. Keeping that promise was not a problem for me. After all, I had already learned that a good surprise beats sneaking and peeking any day of the year, especially on Christmas.

Now, if I could just learn to keep a secret...

Labor of Love--April 14,2006



Today I finished making an Easter dress for Anna. The pattern envelope said something obnoxious like, “Easy Two Hour Dress!” I dare say it took the majority of my free time this week, totaling approximately 546 hours and 23 seconds. Just kidding. It was more like 28 hours, but who’s counting? During this dress-making journey, I gained an appreciation for my mother and my grandmother (and the many before them) who sewed much and sewed often in their lives. I’m sure if they were to read this, they would expect me to go on about how grateful I am for their efforts and skills, but instead, I feel gratitude for the simple fact that I had a mother who cared enough about me to spend her time making me something with her own hands, something she had created.

I know my circumstances are different today. I do not sew to save money. Quite the contrary. The price on the pattern alone read $10.95--the price I like to pay for any one article of clothing in department stores; nor do I sew because I feel an obligatory sense of feminine duty stemming from my pioneer ancestry. I started sewing because my mom seemed to enjoy it and I wanted to see if I could tackle the challenge the same way she did. Needless to say, I feel I have made a connection with the one person who has sewn many things, in my behalf, my mom.

“It feels good to transform a limp piece of cloth into something attractive and useful,” she used to say. I can appreciate, to a very small degree, the pride my mother must have felt when I donned the most beautiful wedding gown ever made by loving hands. I can also understand the pride she must have felt when she fashioned my Bluebird Girl Scout uniform to look just like the other girls’. Granted, as a ten-year-old, I did not appreciate her efforts because the other girls’ uniforms were made out of cheap, faded cotton and had a cool, casual look to them. Mine, however, was made from bullet-proof polyester that had no chance of fading, no chance of looking casual...or cool. My young eyes could only see the blaring differences, so, at the time I was pretty much horrified by my mom’s “creation,” but now I can see that it was a challenge she took on (mostly to save twenty bucks, but nevertheless) in my behalf.

Now, I am not by any means, claiming to be the seamstress my mother is. During this journey I have learned that we are, indeed, different in our creative efforts. Mom is a perfectionist. Every seam, every neckline, every hem has to be measured and perfectly taken. For the most part, she follows the pattern religiously (except for the layout–she always conserves fabric by doing it her own way). I, however, use only the seam guide on the sewing machine to measure my intakes, and when the pattern instructions don’t make sense to me, I improvise. I find that these two simple things spare me some of the frustrations my mother sometimes encountered. Here is my admittedly messed up sewing philosophy: If things don’t line up, or the zipper won’t zip, it is not the fault of the pattern’s designer--why allow a stranger that much power over me? Instead, any flubs that take place are solely attributed to my careless disregard for pattern instruction. And, if any vulgarities fly out of my mouth, they are directed toward myself--not at some Simplicity worker I don’t even know. Also, cursing oneself is much easier to repent for than cursing a factory worker who may not even still be alive. That said, I would like to note that not one vulgarity was verbalized during this past week’s dress-making ordeal. This alone suggests that my sewing philosophy is adequate. A little crazy, but adequate.

Yes, this past week has helped me appreciate my mom, feel a sense of creativity and accomplishment, recognize the beauty of improvisation, practice patience (I actually pinned and basted a few things), and most of all, it has helped me to feel connected to my ancestors who cut, measured, stitched, and probably swore a few times while creating what can only be considered a labor of love.

Wedding Day Woes

When planning your wedding, did anyone ever say to you? “It’s YOUR day. Do what YOU want.” How about? “Don’t let anyone else tell YOU how to celebrate YOUR day.” If these admonitions were given to you and you are continuing to perpetuate this reckless the-bride-is-the-center-of-the-universe advice, I am begging you to please, STOP! Don’t you know that this indulgent do-what-YOU-want attitude is what causes brides to choose red or (worse) navy blue color schemes in the middle of the summer? It is also the reason why weddings are now performed at all hours of the day with no regard for long distance travelers and other busy guests. It may even be the driving force behind that tacky basket filled with computer generated thank yous which often accompany the requisite wedding mint. You know the one. It sits near the door and the notes inside say something like: Thank you for sharing OUR day. We know you spent forty dollars on a gift, but we will not be sending bona fide thank yous because we will be too busy basking in our newly-found, selfish marital bliss. Enjoy this three cent mint!
Sincerely, The Bride and Groom.

Now, I really don’t mean to be critical of others (except for newlyweds who don’t send real thank yous—they're fair game...), but I do want to spare all future brides from experiencing my same wedding day regrets.

I was married in June of 1992. And while my original color scheme involved shades of deep raspberry with black accents, I somehow ended up with hot pink bridesmaid dresses which donned one-inch black polka-dots. Yes, you read that correctly. I won’t take the time to explain the mis-communications which led to this decision, but to help you visualize my wedding line, just imagine Minnie Mouse at a bad eighties prom and that pretty much sums things up. Now, I know my original plan of raspberry and black didn’t exactly jive with a June wedding, but I was told, “It’s YOUR day. Do what YOU want.” What people failed to tell me was, “You have terrible taste and are stuck in a time warp with Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper! Get help.”

I wish someone would have cared enough to intervene. Maybe they could have explained to me that my idea of an elegant, sophisticated evening reception, dinner and dance was not conducive to an event held in a church gymnasium which hosted the blaring June sun and two basketball hoops. Perhaps a sports theme or a beach party would have been more appropriate. Someone could have also let me in on a secret to which I was not yet privy by sitting me down and clearly stating, “Chris, even though you and your soon-to-be hubby like to dance, no other Mormons do. And, the fact you are not serving alcohol at the event, screams “dance inhibition!”

Oh well, in spite of my obnoxiously loud bridesmaid dresses, and our feeble attempt at a dance, my mother managed to save the day by making me the most beautiful wedding gown ever created. It had magnificent sleeves, a delicate, flowing skirt and intricate bodice detail. It was truly a labor of love. Unfortunately, the first time I watched Napoleon Dynamite and saw Lafonda wearing that same “labor of love” my mother had created for me, it only reinforced my claim that soon-to-be brides need honest, candid feedback, not empty validation and appeasement when planning the big day. Otherwise, decades of embarrassment may ensue.

So, if you or someone you love, is planning a wedding, please do everything in your power to keep the bride’s creative license in check. And remember! If polka-dots or pre-written thank yous become part of the plan, please, please, please seek the proper intervention! Both are equally tacky, and are sure to give your generous guests a headache. Good luck, and, oh...Happy Marital Bliss!

I'm Tired...

I’m baffled by the woman who spends so much time finding fault with her mother in law that she cannot appreciate and acknowledge the fact that the woman she constantly belittles raised the amazing man she claims to love. It defies logic.

I’m confused by the parent who chooses to focus on the fact that the grumpy neighbor swore at her children while scolding them for throwing rocks in his pool. Get over Mr. Crabby’s word choice and teach your kids to respect others’ property. Having your little bumpkins apologize to Mr. Grumpy Pants wouldn’t hurt either. Maybe he and his foul mouth would learn something in the process...

I’m tired of hiring a “professional” to provide a service for me only to walk away feeling I could have done a better job myself. Warranties mean nothing in the face of shoddy work and a dissatisfied customer. Unfortunately, you don’t always get what you pay for, especially if you are a perfectionist.

I’m disgusted by surly teenagers who have not been taught that the phrase, “Sit down and get to work,” is a command, not a debatable request–especially when issued by an adult. I am ever baffled by teens’ sense of entitlement which gives them the audacity to argue with a grown up or authority figure as though directives are somehow rude and belittling when directed toward them. It offends every fiber of my being.

I’m ashamed of the parent who upon finding out that Johnny has twelve missing math assignments immediately begins to question the teacher’s classroom practices and procedures rather than placing the blame where it rightfully belongs. Get out the Q-tips; Johnny needs an ear cleaning. That way, he will be sure to hear the teacher loud and clear when he says, “Sit down and get to work,” or “Pass your homework forward.” I’m seeing a pattern here...

I’m fed up the student who feels it is her right to pick and choose which assignments she will complete and which ones she will ignore just as deliberately as she would pick the olives off of her pizza and discard the crust. That is not what is meant by differentiated instruction.

I’m exhausted by the arrogant child who demands the majority of the teacher’s time, resources, and attention and then tries to make the agitated teacher feel guilty by sulking, “You don’t like me.” To this child I say, “I like everyone, but I’m afraid it is impossible for anyone to like you as much as you like yourself.” People who demand that much attention have been sorely misguided into thinking that the world revolves around them. A disservice provided by well-meaning parents who fear low self-esteem far more than social propriety, I suppose.

I’m amazed by parents who believe their children to a fault--even when a respectable adult has evidence to the contrary. Children lie. If you are too lazy to find the truth or too stupid to see it when it is staring you in the face, perhaps you need to spend a day in a third grade classroom–a practice that I believe would cure many of the social ills in this country. I think I’m on to something here...substitute teaching...America’s poor-parenting cure.

I’m increasingly frustrated by clerks in stores who act annoyed when you ask for the location of an item that is not in their “department.” I have news for them. The store is their department. Keeping their job is their department. Putting on a happy, helpful face is their department.

I’m amused by children who, while sitting at the computer, claim they can’t find the information they are looking for when they have the Internet staring back at them. You have the world at your fingertips, child. I’m sure you’ll find something–even if it is not in the “department” you searched first.

I’m tired of people (especially men) directing traffic at four way stops. We all went to driver’s ed. We know the rules. You drive your car; I’ll drive mine, mister.
Now, get out of my way...

Idiot Drivers--written back when I lived on 2900 East. Whew, I was on one...


It’s that time of year again. You know the time. The kids are out playing in their yards, riding their bikes and risking their lives in the process. I say this because there are so many people who drive recklessly through residential neighborhoods. My neighbors and I have talked to police officers and city officials, begging for speed bumps, lower speed limits, and more rigorous police patrol–all to no avail. Our only options are those we create ourselves. While some have tried writing “SLOW 25" in the middle of our street, others choose to give speeders the slow down signal (which, when done with a smile, is often mistaken for an eighties dance move). I, however, am at my wit’s end and feel I have no other choice but to make fun of those who drive like idiots down my street. If you happen to be one of these idiot drivers, please take offense to what you are about to read. The rest of us are going to enjoy a laugh at your expense.

Let me preface my remarks by clearly stating: I am not advocating that children be allowed to play in the street, I am only suggesting that adults act like adults and children be allowed to act like children. It is common knowledge that children are sometimes unpredictable (I know this is obvious to responsible readers, but remember, I am addressing the jackwagons of our community). One never knows when a ball is going to roll into the road with a child chasing close behind. A driver may also be surprised by a child who quickly veers into traffic while riding a bike. And, while this too may be obvious to responsible readers, there are those who would argue (like idiots) that if those things were to happen, it would be the child’s fault for getting in the way of a vehicle. This is where some grown-ups need a lesson on how to think and act like...well, grown-ups. Does it really matter whose fault it is...if YOU strike a child with your car? Knowing that you killed or maimed a child would be a tough burden to bear. Wouldn’t it? Please, don’t answer yet, especially the ding-bats. If these are things you don’t care about, and you are really that big of an indignant jackass, please allow me to offer one more argument which may appeal to you.

Let’s see...doesn’t care about killing or maiming a child....let’s move on to your reputation as a jerk. As I have watched speeders react to the “slow down signal” my neighbors and I often use, I have been amazed at the responses we get. First, and most entertaining, is the one finger wave we get in return. It is especially delightful when it is given by someone we know teaches Sunday School. A close second to the “one finger wave” given by those claiming to be Christians, is the reactionary “I’ll show you by driving faster” approach. Yes, there are people who are old enough to operate a vehicle, yet still maintain the maturity of a first grader (but unlike first graders, they aren’t toothless and cute in their attempts to be defiant).

On occasion, people pull over, thinking we are waving to them like a long lost friend. Some of them even thank us for our vigilant attempts to keep children safe. This, however, was not the case last spring when a friend of mine was given a lecture and a threat from yet another “grown-up” who claimed that she had no right to signal him to slow down after he had recklessly swerved around a child on a bicycle. Apparently, he was driving the speed limit and felt that stopping for the child was not necessary; swerving in the same direction the child was traveling, however, was sufficient. When my friend tried pointing out that in his attempt to miss one child, the idiot driver could have veered into the children playing in the adjacent yard, he abruptly ended the conversation (which he initiated) by insulting her and telling her to keep her kids out of the street. Ironically, she was not advocating in behalf of her own children at the time, but rather, a neighbor’s. The thing that baffles me most about this situation is that while this driver did not have time to stop for the child on the bike, twenty minutes later he had time to stop and patronize my well-meaning friend as he passed back through our neighborhood.

Well, there you have it, my last ditch effort to bring drivers with sub-par intellect up to speed on child safety. Now, if only their cars were as slow as they are...

Hands

An eleven-year-old hand made its way into mine today,
and I couldn’t help but think, Yes! One more day.
I know the priceless nature of such a gift,
a gift that could be gone tomorrow when the opinions of peers
overshadow the need for Mom’s approval.
I try to study the feel, the grip, the intensity with which it is given
before it is quietly released.
Are there needs being expressed?
Are there unheard concerns?
Is love being transmitted?
Reciprocated?
Can I save this welcomed embrace, taking it with me into every tomorrow?

My thoughts and questions are then interrupted by yet another hand
that has made its way into mine.
The three squeezes from this bulky grip say more than the giver could ever express verbally.
My four distinct pulses in return,
answer his message I- love-you- too!
It is our little signal, created in a quiet moment-–
you know the kind, when you feel as though heaven has showered you with a quiet glimpse into the real beauty of motherhood--
and you get it, you really do.

Moments later I am directed to the needs of a smallest set of hands.
Unlike the grips before them, these hands are not interested in signals, hidden messages or even comfort.
They simply want to twirl, ‘round and ‘round, holding only a pinkie for support.
Twirl after twirl, spin after spin they beg for more, demanding the attention they so rightfully deserve.

And, because I know that the days of holding these hands are limited,
I don’t let go.
I embrace them all,
preserving a perfect moment to call upon in the future
when my hands, aged and wrinkled, reach for theirs.

Call Me a Dreamer

In honor of what is known in teaching as The Seven Year Itch, I post this entry from my journal...

Call me a dreamer, an idealist, or maybe the ultimate eternal optimist. Just don’t call me crazy. Nearly thirteen years post-graduation, I find myself looking forward to my very first teaching assignment. The re-certification process was not nearly as painful as other veteran teachers made it sound, and while putting together a resume confirmed my suspicions that I am over-the-top obsessive compulsive, it really wasn’t so bad either. As far as the nervo-meter goes, the interview process registered somewhere between giving birth to a nearly ten pound baby and awaiting my turn to speak at my father’s funeral. Fortunately, like those two grueling experiences, I survived–and, I only had to do it once!

I was absolutely elated to hear that I had landed the first teaching job I had applied for and even more excited to share the news with family and friends. Unfortunately, the excitement ended there. After calling my husband who was genuinely thrilled and supportive, I called my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends. After thirteen years of child rearing, careful budgeting, P.T.A. presiding, resume-building, part time gigging, networking, sweating, bleeding, and tearing--figuratively of course-- SURELY, those closest to me would share my eager anticipation to teach full time.

 Not so.

 After proudly announcing that I would be teaching 7th grade English at a local junior high, the responses varied. While a few were encouraging, most sounded like this:

From Mom: “That sounds like a challenging position, dear. Now, are you sure you don’t have to take summer classes to be qualified?” (This from the same woman who has been asking me for the past decade, “Are you ever going to use your degree?” with the slightest hint of are you sure you really graduated? in her voice.

Scott, older brother, left a message on the answering machine: “Hello, Mrs. Thompson. I hear you will be teaching English next year. Congratulations...if that’s what you wanted.”

From Janice, oldest sibling: “Is that the job you wanted? Doesn’t sound like fun to me, but I’m sure you’ll do fine. Oh, you’ll be helping coach track.... that’s cool!”

From Elena, sister-in-law: “Good job. I am happy for you.” Although she tried to sound positive, I am confident she immediately hung up the phone and expressed her concern about my mental state.

From Adam, nephew-in-law, and future secondary teacher: A sarcastic, “Good luck with that.”

From the school’s secretary: “I hope you like it here...”

From the principal himself: “It will be 7th grade English. Are you still interested?” He went on to inform me that the turnover rate is high.

Now, I am not saying that next year is going to be a cake walk. I have a twelve year-old of my own. I know they vary from moody to moodier, they like to test the limits, they enjoy expressing their hatred for most authority figures, they lie, they do the minimum amount of work in the time given, they lack manners and most social graces they were taught as toddlers, they think themselves victims of anyone older than themselves, they don’t always remember the Right Guard, and their goofy looks inhibit their already crumbling, low self-esteem.

But, dammit! Be happy for me. As demented as it may seem, this is my dream.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Me

1. I love to dance and find it the only exercise I enjoy.
2. I out eat my husband at every meal.
3. I love the smell of gasoline, permanent markers, white out, and PVC glue (but I will stick to scented candles, thanks).
4. If there were a disorder for people who pile things, I would have it. My desk at school, my bedroom, and our office would all confirm the diagnosis.
5. My husband is the nicest man in the world, and I often find myself wondering why I don’t bug him more than I do.
6. If I could freeze time, I would do it now (2010).
7. Some of my best childhood memories involve dressing up and putting on skits with Todd and/or my cousins.
8. I am honored to be one of only two grandchildren my Grandma Reeder ever spanked.
9. I often wonder what is the point of “no-show” socks when I can see people wearing them all the time.
10. I hate crowds, especially on airplanes and cruise ships. So much for being someone who loves to travel...
11. I have kept a journal off and on since I was five years old.
12. My son, Lane, weighed 9 lbs. 13 oz. at birth. Yes, I am one of those obnoxious women who brags about the size of her babies. (We all have something...)
13. I am embarrassed to think that I performed a drill team routine to the lyrics, “Boom!Boom!Boom! Let’s go back to my room so we can do it all night, and you can make me feel right...” What were we thinking? And even more importantly, where were the grown ups?
14. The only place I will go barefoot in a hotel is the shower or the bed. But if I can’t make it to my socks and shoes, walking on the balls of my feet somehow makes me feel as though I am avoiding germs.
15. I like the fact that I can slalom waterski, but don’t enjoy doing it.
16. My kids hate it when Mony-Mony comes on in the car because they know a few drill team head snaps are bound to happen, regardless of who’s watching. I can hear them begging, “Please, Mom, no...”
17. Golfing with my family is something I enjoy. It brings out all of our “issues.”
18. I am not competitive...anymore. Well, okay, only if I am not playing basketball or sprinting...
19. I am not a risk taker, and consider myself a fun-hater on many counts.
20. Six weeks before our wedding I got the Chicken Pox.
21. Because I ask a lot of questions, I find that people, in turn, like to give me unsolicited advice. This really bugs me.
22. Every time I show my kids my kindergarten class picture, they inevitably point to the very cute, Jayme Gilday and ask, “Is that you, Mom?” Needless to say, they are always disappointed to be reminded that I am the girl with horn-rimmed glasses, a shampoo-n-set hairdo, and a broken shoe.
23. I still love my homemade, poofy wedding dress even though LaFawn-duh wears the exact same dress in Napoleon Dynamite. As for my bridesmaid dresses...I will admit they looked like a “Minnie Mouse goes to an 80's prom” ensemble. Sorry ladies. (Mom, if you read this, don’t be offended–I take full responsibility).
24. I love my mom, and miss my dad.
25. If I could give out the best laugh award, it would go to my sister Janice.

Twenty-five Things cont.

26. I had my teeth whitened years ago and would pay triple what it cost. Well worth it.
27. In college I tried out for cheerleader and made it to the final round before being cut. It was the first time in my life I did not make a team I had tried out for. It was a turning point for me.
28. I make the goal to stop swearing every year. I ought to have the habit licked by the time I am eighty.
29. Both of my grandmothers are 94 years old....now that’s cool.
30. Whenever my kids have a report or project due, I wish my sister Julie were around to help give them inspiration like she did me.
31. I snort when I laugh really hard. And I can laugh HARD!
32. I have a habit of saying “my kids” even when Marv is in the room. I’m trying to get over this.
33. Our kids are all so different it is almost comical.
34. Parents who argue about whose turn it is to change a poopy diaper bug me. Perhaps they still need diapers themselves...
35. As much as I hate to, I need to buy more comfortable/practical shoes to work in ( I just can’t bring myself to go granny though).
36. I love to dress up for special occasions.
37. I love to decorate my house, but not for holidays necessarily.
38. I love being blonde, but don’t like being called blonde.
39. I tore my ACL while hopping like a kangaroo with a group of Cub Scouts.
40. Marv and I ran out of money on our honeymoon and didn’t own credit cards. We ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches the last three days before arriving back home for our reception.
41. Two of my children (see there I go again) are high maintenance. The other one reminds me that kids just come with certain gifts, talents, and issues and I can’t take credit or blame myself for any of them. All I can do is enjoy all of them.
42. I am a critical person, but I am learning to cut myself some slack...along with everyone else.
43. I will never offer to coach basketball again unless my kids are all grown and out of the house—Holy time consumption, Batman!
44. Teaching has helped me understand and appreciate my children more (and vice versa).
45. I can sleep through some serious snoring.
46. I look better in photos than I do in person.
47. I am a good idea generator, but the plan has to be simple or it stifles my creativity.
48. I have never broken a bone.
49. I love to sleep, but put off going to bed.
50. I hate it when people clip their nails or dig at their toes or scabs in public. I can’t even talk about nose picking...
51. The only time I have ever tried to lose weight was before my wedding. I ate popcorn for most every meal and probably got down to 100#.
52. I cannot fit into my wedding dress and I am good with that.
53. I find it easy to see the good in people--even those who don't like me.
54. Looking back, it seems as though every time I did something wrong, I was caught, called on it, and punished to the fullest extent imaginable. I suppose you could call me a rebel without a clue.
55. I have the world's worst memory for someone not diagnosed with Dementia.
56. My children are loved more than they will ever know.
57. I have only had one cavity my entire life.
58. My mother deserves a congressional medal for parenting me and not slapping my face clean off as a teenager.
59. I used to feel tremendous guilt when eating out, but Cafe Rio got me over that.
60. I feel blessed to know that God loves me and has a plan for me and my family.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Like...Whatever!


Is it really considered eavesdropping if you have absolutely no intention nor desire to overhear someone else’s conversation? After all, eavesdropping negatively connotes that the listener is at fault or somehow sneaking information from an unwitting subject. In the age of noisy cell phone chatter, I think it should no longer be referred to as eavesdropping, but rather, “eavestolerating”–as in, I tolerate those people who insist on talking not to me, not at me, but simply; in front of me. Yes, I have learned to “tolerate” cell phone yappers and believe that cell phone toleration will soon become one of America’s beloved pastimes, ranking somewhere between viewing televised golf and digging out an ingrown toenail...

The most entertaining conversations I tolerate are those of teenagers, usually girls. I am mostly amused by the fact that whenever I hear a teenage girl on the phone, it is as though she is talking to the last girl I overheard--excuse me--tolerated. Their exchanges are all so similar, and for the most part, sound something like this:
“Can you b’lieve that? I mean, I was just going ‘No way!’ and she was like ‘Yeah’ and I was like, ‘O-my-gosh! That is, like, so gross!’ and then she was all... and I was all...and we were both like...‘Whatever!'”

My favorite part of teen-talk is when a girl asks her wireless friend something like, “But... is she prettier than me?” Now, this is where tolerating becomes a bit tricky for an extrovert like myself who must then refrain from interrupting a conversation--which I have not been officially invited to join--in order to inform her that, grammatically speaking, it should be asked, “Is she prettier than I am?” However, with all my “tolerating” experience, I have learned that the rules of grammar and sentence structure are non-existent, especially when the use of proper English would require a teenage girl to utter the words I am and pretty all in one sentence. So, knowing it is taboo for a teenager to suggest that she’s anything more attractive than a St. Bernard when conversing with friends, I just have to let it go.

And lest you think teenage girls are the only ones guilty of blabbing in the presence of others, thereby testing the levels of “toleration” in those around them...
Just a few weeks ago I learned about one middle-aged woman’s volatile relationship with her father as a result of a cell phone conversation which took place in the express lane at the grocery store. Apparently, her parents are separated and dad has nothing nice to say about mom...blah, blah, blah. Thanks to the fact that this woman was slowly unloading her jam-packed cart, (at the express checkout, mind you) everyone in line had the privilege of hearing this woman patronize her father and threaten to hang up on him if he could not “find something positive to say.” After about the third threat--which somehow inhibited her ability to place items on the conveyor belt--a few of us in line started chanting “Hang-up-on-the-dirty-rat! Hang-up-on-the-dirty-rat!” No, we really didn’t say that, but we were all thinking it. And if we weren’t thinking that, we were thinking forty-six items in the express lane...huh?! Did I mention that this all took place in the express lane?#@!%*!

Not only has this habit of tolerating cell phone conversations tested my patience, it has also proven itself educational. At my son’s last baseball game I learned the finer points of horse breeding from the woman sitting in front of me. She had a “mare” which had just lost a “foal” (that’s a baby horse, for all you city-slickers) and since it was “day 18" (she counted on her fingers to be sure) of her cycle--the horse’s, not the woman’s-- it was apparently time to “breed” her again the following weekend. Again, I wanted nothing more than to interrupt and beg in the mare’s behalf to give poor Nessie a break, but those pesky unwritten social rules of “toleration” made me refrain. I did, however, learn much from this conversation and was quick to realize how grateful I am that, 1. I am a human who is not forced to procreate yearly. 2. I am a woman who has not given birth to offspring weighing more than ten pounds. And, 3. I am a biped whose two legs are perfectly capable of getting up and walking away from conversations that are not directed to me, nor at me, but rather, in front of me.

But, ya know, as I contemplated walking away from this particular conversation, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, Like, no way! I was so totally here first! Like, if she can’t keep her gross ‘horsey chitchat’ to herself and, like, find something more positive to say, then OMG! SHE should totally be the one to leave--not me. Like...Whatever!

Hey, is that YOUR cell phone I hear ringing?

Part Two

And here I am some twelve years later, hoping that the conversations I overhear will somehow get more intelligent with time…

Just this weekend, while enjoying a beautiful luncheon, I overheard a few aspiring Millennials engaged in actual conversation! No cell phones involved!  And the fact that they were discussing their favorite college courses, gave me great hope that insightful dialogue might ensue! But once again, I was disappointed. Interrupting my family’s commentary regarding the delicious pasta salad we were devouring, the twenty-something behind us began talking loud enough for the four adjacent tables to hear (even though she was only addressing the two friends flanking her). After adjusting her barely-butt-covering minidress, she went on to explain that her Anat and Phys class was by far her favorite. “Cuz, seriously. I like learned so much in that class. So yeah. The last time I went to the doctor I was totally able to take like twenty minutes off my visit because I knew words like ‘edema’ and ‘vascular’ ya know? Words I would never have known before I took that class. [Her friends nodding in admiration.] So yeah, I could like totally understand everything the doctor said to me, and I was like, hey, college has made me smarter. Seriously!”

"That is so cool," one of her friends says as she goes to check her dormant cellphone.

And once again, after retrieving my rolled eyeballs from the back of my head, I looked into the face of my sixteen year old daughter and prayed. Prayed that she will one day realize that the best education is the one that teaches you how much you have yet to learn...that talking just to hear yourself talk, usually nets meaningless and often unnecessarily stupid conversation...that with all the Grey’s Anatomy and NCIS she’s watched in her young life, words like ‘edema’ and ‘vascular’ are well within her word bank without taking Anat and Phys...and just before I could finish my prayerful pleadings, Anna turned to me and whispered, “I’m glad she liked her science classes, but she should probably pay more attention in English.”

And I was totally like, “Seriously! Right?”

Diversity and the Morning Commute--originally written in 2005

As my oldest graduates from high school, I cannot help but reflect upon his overall educational experience--the good, the bad, the ugly, and...the school parking lots.

Who says diversity is lacking in America’s suburbia? Every day on my way to the local elementary school I am amazed by the variety of moms I see during the morning commute. Whether equipped with a mini-van, an SUV, or an economy vehicle, I have decided that there are as many ways to chauffeur a child to school as there are chauffeurs themselves. Which one are you? Personally, I will plead the Fifth on this one...

Quite possibly the most common of chauffeurs, is the Screamer Mom. This is the mom who, at first glance, appears to be singing exuberantly as you pass. However, a closer look through her bug-spattered windshield reveals that she is, indeed, yelling at the unfortunate passengers seated behind her. The Screamer Mom is equipped with sensor-like precision in that she can be screaming at the top of her lungs, “If you think I’m driving all the way back down here just because you can’t remember to get the lunch that I packed for you, you have another thing”--door opens at drop-off--volume and tone completely change and then her syrupy-sweet voice is heard to say, “Goodbye-Sweetie-love-you-have-a-great-day!” as if nothing is wrong and the foam seeping from her mouth is a normal, everyday occurence. Another key indicator of a Screamer Mom is that she is always in a hurry. Even after the morning drop off has taken place, she drives ten miles an hour over the speed limit in a rush to get somewhere seemingly important. Her behavior baffles the other mothers who are saying to themselves, Where is she going? She still has bed-head, she’s barefoot, braless and hasn’t brushed her teeth yet. What’s the rush? However, Screamer Moms certainly aren't the only ones who confound.

Next is the Love and Logic Mom. She is a happy mom who cordially waves to her friends and neighbors as she passes because she has not had to struggle with her children getting ready on time. At 8:45 a.m. she simply puts on her coat, grabs her purse, jingles her keys in Pavlovian fashion, then heads out the door--No reminders, just responsible children she smugly tells herself as she deliberately steps over her youngest, struggling to tie his shoe. This mom is one of the easiest to spot during the morning commute as her vehicle is usually being followed--frantically I might add--by a half-dressed, messy-haired eight-year-old who is running after her, yelling something like, “Mom, I’m sorry I chose not to be ready on time. I will make a better choice next time! Please, stop! I've learned my from this natural consequence! Please. WAAAAaaaaaait!”

Unlike the guilt-inducing Love and Logic Mom, the Sardine Mom is a woman who is skilled in the art of packing pint-sized passengers into an S.U.V. at record book proportions. She is also known as a fun mom because she is often seen drumming the steering wheel while the majority of her young occupants sing backup and bob their heads in 80s-rocker-like unison. And, while her carefree practices may at times seem a bit irresponsible to snooty outsiders who would never dream of breaking seat belt laws, one cannot deny that the Sardine Mom has a heart that's even bigger than her filled-beyond-capacity SUV. This is evident as she stops regularly to pick up children who are running late or walking in the cold winter wind (namely, those left behind by the Love and Logic Mom).

Now, Schmoopy Moms are my favorite, and someday, before it’s too late, I want to try and be one. This is the mom who selfishly stays in the school’s drop-off zone and proceeds to engage in a ten-step goodbye ritual with her child. You know the one--the customary procedure that eventually ends with the child turning around at the school doors, hand placed under the chin, fingers wiggling, only to have mom return the entire ten-step hand-waving, kiss-blowing, finger-wiggling gesture—both mother and child blissfully oblivious of those patiently waiting behind them.

Yes, Schmoopy Moms are known for being deliriously unaware of others but emanate one quality that the other moms lack--patience. The Schmoopy Mom doesn’t mind waiting for the frantic Sardine Mom to unload her S.U.V. in circus-like fashion. She doesn’t pass judgment on the Love and Logic Mom because she is completely unaware that anyone other than her own children exist (including children who are walking to school in a blizzard...). And finally, the ever-patient Schmoopy Mom handles the horn honking of the uptight Screamer Mom with a healthy dose of self-absorbed oblivion. Assuming that the anger-infused horn honking behind her is being generated by a friend who is anxious to see her, she happily turns to the Screamer Mom. Smiles. Gives her under-the-chin wiggle wave. Then slowly drives away into her own little world.

Ah, diversity.