Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Did I Do With That Useless Boob?

Have you heard the joke about the useless boob? It goes like this:

"God created woman, and she was good. She had two arms, two legs, and three breasts. God asked woman what she would like to have changed about herself. She asked for her middle breast to be removed. God removed her middle breast, and it was good. She stood there with her third breast in her hand and asked God what should be done with this useless boob?.....And God created Man."

For a few weeks now, I have actually been carrying around an unused boob in a carrying case in my vehicle. Maybe I should explain. On Wednesdays I go to my mom's house and lately we've been going through boxes in her basement to see what she had, what she needed, and what she should get rid of. One of the boxes was a box that contained one of her previous breast prostheses. 

In 2000, I asked my mom when she had her last mammogram. It had been a ridiculously long time. I immediately started scolding her for not going back, and she told me the last one she had really, really hurt, and she didn't want to do that again. I told her that even though she had gone through menopause, her body still had monthly cycles it went through similar to before menopause, and there would certainly be a time during the month when she had breast tenderness. She just needed to figure out when that was and make sure her mammogram was not during that time. She did schedule her mammogram, and they found a lump. They did a biopsy and scheduled surgery. She chose to have a single mastectomy, and would not have to have chemotherapy. She would have to take Tamoxifen for five years, so that's what she did. Part of me felt guilty for bullying her into getting a mammogram, but part of me was relieved for what they found and that they found it so early. 

Because she had a single mastectomy, she needed to be fitted with a special bra and prosthesis. Insurance would pay for a certain number of new bras and a new prosthesis each year, so she'd put the old one in the original box and tell my dad to put it in the basement. Last winter we found one, and contacted where she bought it and they said they take donations of the used prostheses for women who cannot afford them. We thought it was a wonderful idea so we donated that one over the winter. This spring we found another, so we knew we just needed to arrange a time to drop this one off, too. 

I put it in the back of my Ford Escape, and hoped to God I did not get in a car accident and have some poor sap have to fish all of my belongings from the accident scene and come across this "used boob." (I jest, but it really did cross my mind.) The place we donate it isn't exactly on my way to anywhere but shopping, and since I've been trying to purge my unwanted/unneeded items at my house as well as my mother's house, I have been avoiding going to my favorite shopping places. 

Finally last week I decided I wanted to hit a couple of the old shopping haunts and get rid of the extra boob taking a ride in my car. I walked in, handed the box to the woman behind the counter, stated my intentions and that was that. So simple. I find hope in knowing that Stacey's Bra and Lingerie shop does such a wonderful thing for women in need and someone who needs that prosthesis will get it. 

For those of you who know me, I've been into recycling since I was a teenager. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose! I'm kind of fanatical about it, actually. I realized how fanatical I was when my oldest daughter went to the Water Festival at DMACC in 5th grade. One of the activities was presented by Metro Waste Authority and a former school teacher, Mary Gillespie. It was a "Recycle Me" activity where the children had a pile of items to chose from and several choices of where to put it. There was a recycling bin, a donation box, a garbage can, a hazardous waste bin and something else (c'mon, it was 11 years ago!). Mary talked a little bit about each collection bin and what kinds of things to put in it, then she arranged their relay teams and away they went. While my daughter was watching, she leaned over and whispered to me, "Mom? Do these kids and their parents REALLY not know what to do with some of these things? Do they not know where to put them or where to take them? Do they put EVERYTHING in the garbage?" 

It hit me at that point that this all came as such second nature to me, and I apparently had ingrained this in my children's minds. When I was a stay-at-home mom for a few years, I thought nothing of buckling my kids in their car seats and filling the trunk up with the recycling to take to the drop off in Mitchellville (before our own curbside recycling!). They would hand me stacks of newspapers and other paper recycling and I'd put it in the bin, they'd had me paper bags full of aluminum to put in that bin, they'd hand me paper bags full of plastic that was acceptable for recycling at the time. Then the fun part! The items that had fallen out of the bags in the back of the car! They got to pick up those things and I'd have them choose where it was supposed to go, then lift them up to the door and they'd drop it in. Probably my youngest daughter doesn't even remember this, she was so young.

My friend, Reo Menning, works for Metro Waste Authority. At lunch with her last month I told her that my goal in life was to give her as few items as possible for the landfill, but to overflow the items sent to her for recycling or composting. She thought it was a wonderful goal of mine. I started telling her about some of my most recent recycling/upcycling projects. 

One of them was to take an old set of encyclopedias (wait...are there such a thing as NEW sets of encyclopedias anymore?) and turn them into a secret hiding place. You cut out a section of the inside of the book and glue the pages together so there is a secret compartment in the book. It can set on the bookshelf and just looks like an encyclopedia. I'm making Christmas gifts for two special people in my life from two of these, so I can't explain what I'm putting in mine in case either of them read this. But my inspiration came from a Colt pistol in a case that looks like a book that belonged to my grandfather. 

Another project is with old denim jeans. I cut them up and used almost every piece possible for something. The back pockets went to a 4-H member who is going to do a presentation on "locker pockets," or refrigerator pockets. You decorate the pocket with paint markers, and put a sticky magnet on the back so it will stick on the refrigerator (or in your school locker). Put a note pad and pen or pencil inside, and there you have the "locker pocket." The seams I gave to this member and her sister to roll up (while putting non-water soluble glue along it as your roll it so it sticks together) and make coasters. You could glue several sizes of coasters together to make a trivet, or pot holder. The length of the jeans have been cut up into 5 inch and 7 inch squares to make a quilt or two. 

Yesterday as I was cleaning my closet and dresser, I came across several "unmentionables" that I don't wear any longer but still have several years of life in them. I Googled what to do with them, and came across Really. It's an organization that takes gently used bras, lingerie, swim suits and slips and either gets them to women who need them or gets them to someone who uses them as a craft project that is auctioned off for breast cancer research. I saw the most adorable long-chained tiny purse made from two cups of a beautiful lacy bra. Really! 

How do you donate to them? They say the best way is to use one of the flat rate priority mail boxes. You know, the "if it fits, it ships" boxes? If the tags are cut out, you're to put it in a baggie and label it, but just put as much inside as will fit and ship it off. Visit their website for the mailing address. 

My last example of my oddly-obsessive recycling habits involves what I found in the back of a dresser drawer. It was a baby food jar filled with my daughters' baby teeth. The tooth fairy would place the tooth in the jar after exchanging it for a very special coin (a Kennedy half dollar, a silver dollar, a Susan B. Anthony dollar or a Sacajawea dollar). Yeah, the tooth fairy is a cheapskate out here in Clay Township. There were rare exceptions when the tooth fairy would leave something different, but mostly it was special coins that they might not see in normal circulation. Life was always about an educational opportunity at the Timmins household. 

But back to the baby food jar full of teeth. Ew, you might say. Here's what I say: When I die, could someone please come in and permanently delete my Google search history? Because I am sure the things I Google make me look pretty damn creepy. "What do you do with gently used lingerie?" "What do you do with your children's baby teeth?" Really? What kind of nut-job does those kinds of searches? 

Me. That's who. Me. 

So for those of you who have made it this far and are not on the phone with either Homeland Security or the psych ward to report me, here is what I found out about baby teeth. 

Mix them up in your potting soil as you plant your flowers this Mother's Day. The calcium is good for the soil and you're extending the life story of those wee ones who were so excited when they lost a tooth and were going to get a visit from the tooth fairy. Think about when those baby teeth were in your child's mouth and your child smiled at you. Think about when your child lost that tooth and gave you a gappy smile! Think about the toothless smile you saw the next morning when your child proudly showed what the tooth fairy left them. Then if you're like me, you'll be watering your Mother's day flowers with the happy tears you're shedding as you remember the happy days gone by. Salt is good for the soil, too, in small doses. 

You don't need to be as fanatical as I am about recycling, although there are plenty of things being thrown away, so maybe you could try to be a *little* like me, couldn't you? Baby steps, that's all I ask. Think twice before you put something in the garbage. "Should this go in recycling?" "Can someone else use this?" If you don't know what to do with it, Google is your friend. Google will direct you to websites and organizations that do wonderful things. Google will give you ideas that you hadn't thought about before. 


That boob isn't so useless after all, is it?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Make Good Choices!

You remember the line, don't you? Jamie Lee Curtis' character in "Freaky Friday?" Her parting words to her moody teenage daughter, "Make good choices!" It became a joke in our family. Not that I said it, but the vocal inflection in which I used when I said it. My girls knew I meant the words, but I also meant to have them leave me in the morning with a smile.

Mornings are hard in our house. I am NOT a morning person. My husband isn't either, but he can be pretty chatty in the morning. He's learned over the years that I am not really the one to chat with in the a.m. My oldest daughter is like I am in the morning. Not chatty, kinda grumpy. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, apparently thinks she has been saving up all of the words she couldn't use while she was sleeping and share them ALL with us first thing in the morning. I have a look that evidently speaks to her. This look says, "Too. Many. Words. Too. Early."

But usually by the time everyone is ready to go out the door, we're all in a good enough mood to joke around. It used to be with me telling the girls to "make good choices!" For the last couple of years it's been a morning routine with my youngest, who is now 17, which goes like this:

Me: "Did you take your meds? (answer could go either way.) Do you have all your shit? (because I don't like driving to the high school at 7:30 a.m.) Do you have your phone? (same reason.) I love you."

JK: "I love you, too."

Me: "Have a good day."

JK: "Don't tell me what to do!"

I love it. Quality conversation with a 17 year old girl.

Today we had a different conversation. Today it did have to do with choices. Choices of how she can react to her Relationships teacher, an old-school FCS teacher who is on her way out. Retiring, thank goodness. I'm sure she's a lovely lady, but I'm also sure she has no idea how to use the grading program, since she had daily assignments listed in the assessment boxes (which carry a heavier percentage of the grade) and JK didn't give a quality effort on said daily assignments, and at conferences in February it appeared she was failing the class. She wasn't. She hates the class and really doesn't care for the teacher, but she knows she has to learn to get along with people of authority she doesn't like, so it's a learning experience.

I'm also pretty sure she didn't bother reading my daughter's 504 plan, or if she did she has no idea what those letters mean behind her name. Maybe she should look up what "ODD" stands for. Yes, JK can be odd, but that's not what it stands for. Oppositional Defiance Disorder. In a nutshell, it means if you back her in a corner using your position of authority, she's going to come out swinging. Plan accordingly.

But I digress (like I always do). Back to the "make good choices."

In Relationships, they are discussing psychological disorders, and Monday they discussed autism. They watched a video (which I'm tempted to say was a reel-to-reel given how I feel about the situation) about a boy and his severely autistic brother. During the discussion part of the class, the teacher showed her ignorance about the autism spectrum and lumped all individuals with autism in the severely autistic category. JK came home pretty upset, and the first thing she asked me was if autism was a disease. Not knowing where this was coming from, I explained to her that disease was a convenient term to use, but I wouldn't classify it as a disease. She then proceeded to inform me that her teacher talked about how "debilitating" the disease of autism was, and how some individuals with autism have a good chance of functioning in society someday.

Okay, now Mama Bear was beginning to emerge. I asked a few more questions about the discussion, which not only entailed the teacher discussing individuals with autism, but a few students trying to explain that autism was a spectrum, and not all individuals with autism are as severe as the boy in the video. These explanations were answered with a smug smile and a look of condescension and the discussion was moved along according to her lesson plans.

I asked if she wanted me to say something to the teacher or to her counselor, to which she immediately said no, for fear she would become a part of the next classroom discussion. I stored away my angry mother eyes and tamped down my feelings of anger in hopes the next day would be a better one.

Tuesday they discussed bi-polar disorder. JK isn't, but I'm sure she's seen a list of symptoms and has questioned it in her mind. I know I have. Pair that with the fact that her hackles were already up from the day before, and I'm sure JK was ready to pick apart what the teacher had to say. The part she chose to share with me was the teacher explaining how individuals with bi-polar disorder lead such debilitating lives on a daily basis. I took a deep breath.

I tried to explain to JK that this teacher was discussing the extremes of each of these diagnoses, and not the levels of severity they each can hold. JK gave me a look of understanding, but no words. I felt defeated by her expression.

Back to this morning and our discussion; I called her in my room and told her that she had two choices when she went into Relationships today. 1) She could be offended by the obvious ignorance of her teacher's explanations, or 2) she could take them for what they were worth:  the simple explanations of someone who doesn't know any better. (Okay, I added another part in there about it being a bitter old woman whose career was about to end, but that was more of a pep talk.)

Those choices are hard ones to make. The choice of how you react to someone's ignorance or misunderstanding of an issue. There comes a point where you have to figure out if what you say is going to make a difference to the person you're trying to explain it to. There are just some people that just don't get it. And by "it" I mean any other point of view besides their own. It doesn't matter if you present facts to them that contradict what they believe, they just don't care. They have an idea in their head and that's that. End of story. 

So over the years you learn to smile and nod and let them think whatever it is they want to think, no matter how incorrect or inaccurate or ignorant it may be. It might be that what they think is written in ink on their lesson plans and there is no room for discussion or alternate ways of thinking. It might be that they read it somewhere and if it's in writing, then it must be true. It might be how they were taught or how they were brought up, and they just don't know any better, and they don't have the ability to entertain other opinions. Or it could just be that they're ignorant assholes and there is just no way you are ever going to change their minds.

So tell me: what good choices did you make today?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's WRONG with YOU?

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Too bad we can't educate the world in one day. To try to educate some people I know might take all year. (As well as some 2x4 therapy) Some people just don't get it. Some people want to know "what's wrong with her?" Here's the deal: nothing is wrong with her. Everything is wrong with you. Maybe not everything, but everything as it relates to her. 

I have a child who falls on the autism spectrum, so I've got a dog in this fight. I'm the dog, and I'm fighting. Fighting to educate people about what they consider "different." We're all different. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. I've often jokingly said "Well things would be better if everyone were just like ME!" But I really don't mean that. I mean, driving would be exponentially better, but that's about where it would stop. I don't want everyone to like the exact same things I like. Then there wouldn't be enough for me! What makes us different is what makes us unique. 

Ah, unique. If I had a dollar for every time a teacher started a parent-teacher conference with, "She's very unique," I might not be working right now. Yes, I know she's unique. I'm her mother. And don't try to substitute the word unique with "quirky," "unusual," "peculiar," "idiosyncratic," or "eccentric." They all mean the same thing. They mean my child is non-conformist and won't fit inside the tiny little box you want all students to fit into. They mean my child is one-of-a-kind. They mean my child is an individual. I get that. I understand that. Does it interfere with her ability to learn? Does it interfere with your ability to teach? 

There are three main diagnoses that fall under the autism spectrum. "Autistic," "Asperger syndrome," and "PDD-NOS." (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) These disorders are typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, and in some cases, cognitive delays. You will notice I have underlined the word typically. That means there are exceptions. Don't question me if I state that my child falls on the autism spectrum by saying that she doesn't ____, or she's never ____ . I said "spectrum." Look it up if you have to, but here's a hint: a rainbow is a spectrum of colors. I hope that helps.

And there isn't a damn thing wrong with her. 

I'm a "fixer." What I finally figured out is that my child didn't need fixed, everyone else needed fixed. She may have a whole string of letters (ADHD, ODD, OCD), as well as severe anxiety issues, but she's not broken. You fix what is broken, and she isn't. I've never thought of her as different, but incredibly advanced. I had to explain the electoral college to her when she was seven, and she understood it. She's wise beyond her years and absolutely hysterically funny. But so many people are so incredibly uncomfortable around her that it affects me as a mother in ways I can't understand. Some of them are close members of our own family.

Sarcasm is an odd component in her life. She uses it like a second language, but most of the time when it is directed AT her, she doesn't get it. She takes it as literal. I explained it to a teacher once like this: "You might be using sarcasm with her, but she doesn't know you're being sarcastic. She just thinks you're a bitch." (She was a bitch, but pointing out to her that she was a bitch regardless of her use of sarcasm wasn't going to help out my cause, so I just left it at that.) 

She has NO tolerance for the intolerant. Because she's always been "different," she relates with the minority. She stands up for the little guy (or girl). She roots for the underdog. When you generalize about an entire group of people, she's going to be offended. When you use derogatory terms, she is going to be outraged. (I do too, but I know that those people in my life who do this are shallow, superficial assholes. I've come to terms with it.)

I guess my point is, there is nothing wrong with people who are autistic. They might process things differently than you do. They might respond to outside stimuli differently than you do. They might view what is important in life as something totally different that what you do. 

What is wrong is how you respond to them. Don't stare and frown. Don't laugh and giggle and point. Most importantly, don't judge. Don't talk about someone who is autistic behind their back. Or behind their family's backs. Chances are, it will get back to us, and then we will pity you for being so small-minded. Try to understand. (Honestly, I try to understand why some people are such assholes, why can't you try to understand?)

There's nothing wrong with her; what's wrong with you?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Mauled by a Bear and Lived to Tell the Tale" or "When I First Realized that Wisconsin Hates Me."

Since before I can remember, and even before that, our family has visited Pembine, Wisconsin to visit relatives on my mom's side of the family. They are a fun, down-to-earth, rowdy bunch of folks, and usually a good time is had by all. Pembine is a "don't blink or you'll miss the town" place north of Green Bay on Highway 141, almost to Iron Mountain, Michigan. Three families (my mom's mom's mom's siblings, if you can follow that) moved to northeastern Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s when times were hard everywhere. Some of them went to Minnesota as well, but three siblings moved to the Pembine-Dunbar-Beecher Wisconsin area. 

Since I was a little girl, I've always wanted to walk from highway 141 out the long and twisty road to my cousin's home. I didn't act on it until 2003 when I traveled to Wisconsin with my parents. We stayed at a motel that sits at the corner of Highways US 8 and US 141, and the first morning I started out bright and early for my long walk to their house. I guess it's about 6 miles or so.  It was a crappy morning, not sunny, not warm, spitting rain. I had walked almost half way when my parents drove up on their way there. It was yucky out so I jumped in the back seat and decided I'd try again the next morning.

The next morning I got up even earlier and started on my way. I had taken along my dad's red hooded sweatshirt since it was a little chilly in the morning, and I jokingly called it my bear-attracting sweatshirt. So I was on my way out Cemetery Road on a bright and sunshiny day, and even had to tie the sweatshirt around my waist because I was a little too warm. I was over half way when Mom and Dad drove by me, and I said I was going to do it that day but did toss my sweatshirt in their back seat. I just knew I would make my goal that day!

I was between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way there, and had been looking down on the side of the road for interesting rocks to take home to the girls when I heard some rustling in front of me. I looked up and there, about 50 yards in front of me walked a black bear, from one side of the road into the timber on the other side. It wasn't a small bear, not a cub or anything, but a full-grown adult. It was a black bear, but to me it looked as big as a grizzly. 

I wasn't sure what to do. I was afraid that maybe it was a mama bear and her cubs were on the side of the road she had just come from, and I knew you didn't get between a mama bear and her cubs. So I stood there. Panicking, not knowing what to do.

Well I decided the first thing I'd do is say every swear word I know (later I said it was because I wasn't sure if I'd ever get the chance to say them again) and that didn't help. (at this point in the telling of the story, my brother Tom says that me saying every swear word I know took about 20 minutes) That was plan A.

Plan B then went into action. I tried calling up to my cousin's house, but I was standing in an area with very tall trees, so I didn't get very good reception. I could hear them, but they could not hear me.  

Well, (expletive)! What now? If I only had a ride! Well despite having just taken the Lord's name in vain several time (and in three languages), the Almighty answered my prayers in the form of a very, very small car with a boat strapped to the top and four fishermen inside. I flagged them down (I'm sure I looked like a crazy woman, and I don't think they would have stopped had I not jumped out in front of them, and they probably thought I'd dent their car too much) and they stopped and rolled down the window. I told them that I was only going a little farther down the road to my cousin's but there was a bear up ahead and I didn't want to cross her path. 

They kindly opened the back door for me (or maybe they didn't? maybe I just opened the door and got in, I'm not sure. there was a bear involved in this!) and I got in. There were four guys, all in their late 20s or early 30s. Fishing poles were inside the little car from the back of the hatch up through to the windshield. Needless to say the poor sap who had to move over for me and sit in the middle had his neck all twisted because of said fishing poles. To be honest, I really didn't care about his comfort, only my safety. 

In the meantime, my parents had arrived safely and bear-free at our cousin's house, and Mom, Dad and Betty were settled in on the front porch with cups of coffee. My mother had just commented to Betty about a car that was coming down the road with a boat on top, "Look, there are some fishermen, heading down to the river! Oh, wait. They are stopping! Do you know them, Betty?" To which a bewildered Betty started to answer "No," but was interrupted when the back door opened up and out I jumped! My mother said, "Well! That's Barbara! I taught her better than to take rides with strangers! What does she think she's doing?" 

Well out I popped and ran into the house, first to the bathroom (because I was never at the point that I wet my pants, thank goodness!) and then out onto the porch with Mom, Dad and Betty. Betty was still laughing at this point, and my dad was chuckling, and my mother was demanding to know why I would ride with strangers and asking what happened. Don't get me wrong, she was laughing at the situation as well. 

I explained the entire situation to them all and Betty told me that bear was more scared of me than I was of it. That may have been true, but sometimes when I am scared I lash out, and what's to say the bear didn't react the same way? When Betty's son, Ken heard the story he told me I was in more danger from those four strange men than I was from the bear. Everyone had a wonderful laugh at my expense. 

That night I called home to talk to my husband and daughters and experienced the same laughter from my husband, but when I told the girls, the conversation took a little different turn. When I finished the story, I experienced dead silence on the other end of the line. Then someone spoke. One of the girls.

Me: "Yes, there was a bear!"
Me: "Only because there was a bear."
Me: "Did you miss the part of this story that involved a BEAR?"
"Officer Friendly tells us to NEVER take rides with strangers!"

We DROVE back to our motel room that night, but the next day Betty informed us that late that night, after dark, a little car zoomed down the road with a boat on the top of it, and honked on the way by. See? Friendly guys.

I am sure it won't surprise you to hear that every time I told the story it got better. The bear was closer and closer and bigger and bigger. Eventually it got to the point where the bear did charge me and I had to play dead and it knocked me around a bit. Probably at some point in telling the story, I was actually mauled or something. Anyway.

So the next March my husband and I took the girls to see the movie "Big Fish" with Ewan MacGregor and Albert Finney. On the way home, my youngest said "I still don't understand why the movie was called Big Fish." So my husband told her that the man was trying to sort out the stories his dad told him over the years and separate the truth from the exaggeration. Kind of like when a fisherman tells about the fish that got away, and it gets bigger and bigger each time he tells it.

That explained it for her. She piped up and said, "Kinda like Mom and the bear story?"

To which my loving husband answered, "EXACTLY like Mom and the bear story!"

And THAT, my friends, was when I first realized that Wisconsin hated me. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I'm SO Ornamental

By definition, "ornament" means something that lends grace or beauty. "Ornamental" is defined as "of, relating to, or serving as an ornament." So "ornamental" means something relating to grace or beauty. So why is one of the antonyms of ornamental "functional?" Something that lends grace or beauty isn't functional?


There is a reason this word is stuck in my mind today. I have tried for the past 20 years to keep organized track of what ornaments we have that adorn our tree each Christmas. (TRY being the operative word in that last sentence!) The ornaments were mine from before I was married, they were Rob's before we were married, they are ours from the past 21+ years of our married life, they belong to Brett, and they belong to J. Kay. A couple of them actually belong to Nic. I acquired a few this year that previously belonged to my mom and dad. Some are ones that my Grandma Newbury made. She beaded several bells and a couple of Eastern Star stars. 

Before everything goes away until next December, I'm going to give one last shot at my organization. I'm going to know to whom each of these ornaments belong. Maybe even from where they came. I'm going to try my hardest, anyway. I'll be taking photos and writing on ornaments for the rest of the day. 

So this brings me back to my original question: Something that lends grace or beauty isn't functional? The definition of functional is something that is "used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole." 

The ornaments we have for our tree aren't all beautiful by the dictionary definition. They aren't what most people would consider beautiful. But nearly every ornament we own helps to tell a story of our lives. To tell a story about our likes and interests, our ages and capabilities, our pasts and our futures. They are an extension of each of us as individuals and as members of our family. 

THAT is beautiful. Our family is beautiful. Our family might not be like your family. We're unique. We're quirky. We function well as individuals and pretty well as a whole. 

So those ornaments, that are an extension of us as individuals and an extension of us as a family, are functional. Each tells something different from a different time. Each helps us relive a time of our lives we may only relive once a year. Some make us laugh. Some make us cry. All tell stories of our lives, which are beautiful. 

The English language is a funny thing that doesn't always make sense. This happens to be one of those times where it doesn't make sense. Especially if you couple this with the fact that another word for "ornament" is "decoration." Because the definition of decoration "something which adorns, enriches or beautifies." 

Maybe we should come up with a different word to signify those items with which we festoon our trees at Christmas time. Any ideas? Maybe "life markers." That's what they seem to be, at least in our case. They are the markers of our lives at that particular time and place. 

Which makes me smile, laugh even, because my next question was going to be, "How in the world did four (or five) people get so many Christmas ornaments?" I've answered my own questions. Our lives are full to overflowing. We have so many things to mark our lives over the past 16, 19, 20, 21, or 44 years. 

Our lives are full. Our lives are good. Our lives are rich. Our lives are beautiful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Every Parent's Nightmare

I'd be lying if I said what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary isn't something that every parent has nightmares about. Not just parents like the parents of the 20 innocent children who died that day. Parents like those of Adam Lanza, the shooter. Parents like those of Nancy Lanza, the shooter's mother. Parents like those of Rachel D'Avino, behavioral therapist; Dawn Hochsprung, principal; Anne Marie Murphy, special education teacher; Lauren Rousseau, teacher's aide; Mary Sherlach, school psychologist; and Victoria Soto, first grade teacher.

We all have hopes and dreams for our children. Those hopes and dreams evolve over time, and don't always end up the same as they start off. You look at the innocent babe lying in your arms and dream for her to be happy and healthy and bring joy and love to your home. You look at your active and curious toddler and dream for him to be smart and athletic and make you proud to be his parent. You look at your scared, yet excited young child entering preschool or kindergarten and dream for her to find friends and for her to be a good friend to others. You look into your child's eyes and just know that her teacher will find her just as incredible and fascinating and special as you do.

Sometimes those things happen, and sometimes they don't. When they don't, your hopes and dreams for your child change. Hopefully there is a positive spin on those changes. Like the day I realized that the qualities that drove me the craziest in my youngest child would be the qualities that would take her far in life. Not quite so endearing in a 3 year old, but as a 23 year old she was going to rule the world. So while I tried to curb those qualities to help her with day to day living, I still fostered and encouraged them.

Sometimes you have to keep your dreams for your child quiet, or your child will rebel against those dreams and do something totally different. I have known since my oldest daughter was 3 years old that she would be a teacher. I didn't know what age level or in what subject matter she would excel, but as a mother, I knew. She had many interests over the years, ones that I knew would be wonderful hobbies and pastimes for her to enjoy as an adult. Soccer, cross country and other sports would keep her active and healthy. Photography would be an outlet for her creative side. But I knew neither of those were her destiny. As a freshman in high school, she had to formulate a "4-year plan" that would help her toward her eventual career path. She had to state what she wished to go to college for and what classes would help her along the way. She said she wanted to be a photo-journalist, so art, photography and English classes would help her toward her goal.

Due to a less-than-pleasant experience showing livestock at the state fair as a 4-H member, she reluctantly joined FFA in hopes of a more organized livestock show. Joining FFA was the catalyst for her eventual career path change. After meeting some people who have become long-term friends, as well as enjoying herself in FFA activities and showing a natural aptitude toward many of the areas of FFA, she made the decision that she wanted to become an Agriculture Education teacher and an FFA instructor. It was a proud moment as a mom, knowing that my gut feeling when she was a 3-year-old was right; she was a born teacher! 

Had my daughter never come to this decision on her own, I would still have been proud of whatever she would become. My dream was for her to become a teacher, but if she had been flying across the globe to take photos in beautiful or dangerous or solitary surroundings, I would still have been proud of her. Proud of her for doing what she loved. 

What do we do if we find out there is a medical issue with our child that will probably alter their life path and change our hopes and dreams all together? We roll with it. There is a reason for it, whether we know what that reason is or not. We may never know that reason. It honestly doesn't matter if you find out your child has cystic fibrosis or is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. You still love your children and you still have hopes and dreams for them. 

Too often I hear about parents who are overly dramatic about a curve in the road of their children's lives. They receive a diagnosis and say, "All of my hopes and dreams for my child are completely shattered!" My first thought is, "Really? Shattered? At most there might be a crack or two, but shattered?" To me that indicates that a parent's hopes and dreams were too specific and too self-centered for that child. Hope differently! Change the outcome of your dream! 

Or there are parents of children who come out to their families as gay or lesbian, and those parents shut that child out of their lives. Sometimes not totally, but it is obvious that they have shut that child out of their hearts. How heartbreaking for that child! Each comment from those parents is like another knife in the heart! "It isn't what I dreamed for him." "I always hoped for my daughter to marry the man of her dreams and settle down to give me grandchildren." "I wanted him to become a great and successful businessman." "Since she is living with another woman she will never know the joy of being pregnant, being a mother."

I hear these hurtful and completely thoughtless comments and I am amazed humans seem to live in such a black and white world. No, it might not be what you dreamed for him, but didn't you ever dream he would be happy? No, your daughter might not settle down with the man of her dreams, but couldn't it be the woman of her dreams? Your son can be a great and successful businessman no matter his sexual orientation. Many women living as a couple or as spouses know the joys of pregnancy and the joy of being a mother. 

Which brings me to my original point; there are parents of 20 children in Connecticut whose hopes and dreams for their children are truly shattered. There are gifts under a tree that will not be opened as planned. There are closets full of clothing that will no longer be worn. There are toy chests full of toys that won't be played with anymore. And there are hopes and dreams that will never come true. They won't ever have the joy of watching their children grow up. Those children will forever be six and seven years old. 

Think about those parents when you overreact to something your child tells you. The conversation your child will have with you about their latest issue or problem (being pregnant, dropping out of college, dating someone of a different race, getting in a car wreck, failing a class, not making the honor roll, telling you about his/her sexual orientation) is nothing compared to the conversation 27 sets of parents had with the police last week in Connecticut. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas and Bah Humbug!

I do enjoy Christmas, I really do. I also get pretty crabby because real trees can be messy and sometimes smelly and not everyone can agree on one all the time. And no matter how small it looks out on the tree farm, it usually covers half of my living room. 

Gift-giving can be a little stressful, too. I don’t know what to tell people I want, and unless I’m given a list, I usually don’t know what to get others. I think you should be grateful for what you’re given, no matter what it is. I don’t think you should post pictures of horrible presents or call in to a radio show with what the worst-ever Christmas present was you received. Because you know what? The worst present you could get is nothing. And if what I have given is considered your worst, then it might just get worse next year. 

I don’t even mind the shopping, because I really do enjoy shopping. No matter the time of year. Rude people are rude people no matter what time of year it is. 

Here’s what really gripes my ass: Christmas music playing at the stores and malls. First, they start playing it in September or October when they start putting out the Christmas items to sell, and that is just wrong. Back to school items and Christmas items should not pass each other in the retail aisles. Second, there are very few Christmas songs that don’t sound like nails on a chalkboard to me. Really.

I was shopping with my daughter earlier this week and I heard a song and I commented that I hated that song. Later, I heard another that I hated just as much. She gave me a look and I said, “Yes. There are a lot of Christmas songs I hate. I think I will let you know when there is one that I like, okay?”

I will attempt to run down a few for you, citing reasons. Feel free to discuss or refute.

“Santa, Baby” – Eartha Kitt is the only human being in the history of the world who can pull off this song. It’s whiney and greedy. Eartha Kitt can pull it off because she’s Eartha Kitt. Nobody else is, so don’t try. Okay?

“Last Christmas” – Do I even need to explain why this song is inane? It’s been a year. Quit pining. It wasn’t meant to be so let it go. Move on and take that damn song with you when you go.

NOTHING sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks belongs anywhere outside of a preschool or elementary school. I know my 18 year old daughter will disagree, but it is nothing that should be played on an adult radio station. How do they even know what chipmunks sound like, anyway?  

“Little Saint Nick” – Let’s just start off by saying that nobody in the last four decades has been a “cool cat.” And there is no lyric out there that is more stupid than "Christmas comes this time each year." Really? Duh. Too many drugs, I'd say. And obviously not good ones if that's all the better you can come up with, Boys. 

"Carol of the Bells" - As an instrumental, strictly a large orchestra instrumental, this is a wonderful piece. When you put words to it, it sounds like either an unmedicated child with ADHD or someone on crack. 

"Feliz Navidad" - Sorry. Taco John's ruined this for me. Jose Feliciano should sue them. 

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - This WAS a cute song. It should never be sung by an adult. And I think the Jackson 5 should have been fined millions of dollars for singing this song. Don't add stupid lyrics. "I did! I did see mommy kissing Santa Claus!" Don't be ignorant. It didn't make the song any better. Less is more, Michael. 

"Jingle Bell Rock" - oh. my. goodness. Very cute in 1957, I'm sure. There should be no song, about Christmas or otherwise, that includes the word "swell." 

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Very sweet song. Unfortunately, too many people have turned it into a dirge. I CAN'T have a merry anything after I hear this song! It depresses me!

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" - This has the potential for being a very nice song. Sadly, Andy Williams confused Halloween and Christmas in this song. I do not, and have never, on any of my 43 Christmases, told a scary ghost story. Never. Not once. 

"Winter Wonderland" - No song that contains lyrics about conspiring by the fire can be a good one. And why would you include in your song that the other kids are going to knock down your snowman/circus clown? And I think it's pretty racist, too. Just how exactly DO Eskimos frolic and play? Is it different than how other people frolic and play?

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" - My apologies to Mr. Bing Crosby, but this song is pretty damn sad. If someone sang it to me like that, I wouldn't be there when he got there. It would just make me depressed! Speed it up!

"Little Drummer Boy" - this has got to be the most overrated Christmas song ever. Too slow. Too sad. Too pa-rum-pa-pum-pummy. 

All that being said, there are Christmas songs I do like. 

"The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting) is my favorite. As long as it's not sung too slow and sappy. Except the whole thing about Eskimos. I just think it's racist to lump all people who live in cold climates together as Eskimos.

"Holly Jolly Christmas" is a good one. I would have a cup of cheer if it were offered to me. I like that song.

"Sleigh Ride" is a good one, too. Nobody covered it as well as Whitney Houston and Mary Katherine Gallagher on SNL, but I do like the song. It's fast-paced and peppy. But not the instrumental-only version. Then it just sounds like a horse on crack.

I could listen to the entire album of John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together. "The Peace Carol" is probably the most beautiful song I can think of. And "Christmas is Coming" is fun to hear anyone sing, but it's the best when it's led by Miss Piggy. I'm sorry, but it can't get much better than Kermit and Miss Piggy. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is only enhanced by Miss Piggy interrupting the song because she thinks they are calling for "piggy pudding" and not "figgy pudding." I don't think I'd eat either, but it makes me laugh, every time.

I know there are other songs I like. I know there are other songs I hate. If I think of them, I'll add to this. But all I have to say is THANK GOODNESS it is December 23. I don't think I could handle much more of the Christmas songs on the radio and in the stores.