Tag Archives: Childhood

Sparklers

Sparklers

sparkler
He taught me how to read people’s eyes.

My Dad always told me to know your audience, read their eyes, before you say anything. That way, you can make those small adjustments and hit a home run with your words.

It’s a skill I have now, but one that I was sorely lacking when I first met her.

We were running around the yard, sparklers in hand, I was trying to hide the sheer joy of the sputtering lights behind the mask of male pubescent cool.

I was all skinny legs and knobby knees, hiding my singular eyebrow behind a curtain of dark bangs. Slouched shoulders and awkward gait.

She was all bright eyes, shining cheeks and blinding braces.

She was my Mom’s friend’s daughter and we met while on one of those forced multi-family events that I found excruciating. The assumption that because the parents connected, so should their children, was nothing short of insulting. Plus, the parents usually connected over alcohol and a shared desire to ignore their kids, if only for a couple of hours.

But this time, there was Kari.

I stood in agony as I tried to come up with something to say. A quip. A joke. Anything that might get her to take notice of me. To recognize that her soul mate was standing right in front of her.

But my thoughts keep turning in on themselves like one of those weird Escher paintings we learned about in art class.

So, I study from behind my safe mantle of hair. I watch. I take note of her every move, the sound of her voice, her laugh as if I am a scientist observing a new species of exotic bird.

I could win her over with comedy. I was fairly funny. Or, that’s what all my idiot friends always told me. I ponder this for a moment. The only jokes I know are riddled with body functions and genitalia references. I deduce that this would not be the right approach and quickly move to another angle.

I could go the observational route. I turn over some options. The weather? It was unusually humid out.

Who am I? My Grandfather? Am I going to talk about my arthritis next?

There was always the complimentary approach. I did like the pants she was wearing. And she had a nice clip in her hair.

Potentially creepy.

I finally decide to go with the classics – ask her about herself. Keep it simple.

I take several very deep breaths to try to quiet the nest of butterflies in my stomach.

I pat my bangs down a bit more to ensure my safety net is there in case this does not go down well. In my mind, I can become invisible behind them upon command.

I take one hesitant step forward….

…as she comes running up to me, a little winded, eyes bright and face flushed.

“So, what school do you go to?”

I brush my bangs out of my eyes as my heart bursts into a million points of light, just like the sparkler she is holding.

__________________________________________

This is my response to this week’s speakeasy,
over at yeah write, where we had to make some
reference to M. C. Escher’s lithograph, Waterfall,
and use the sentence “He taught me how to read
people’s eyes
.” as the first line in our piece.

Click the badge to read the other submissions or to learn more about
the speakeasy creative writing challenge.

Fear And Loathing In Fatherhood

Fear And Loathing In Fatherhood

Fatherhood.

I know less about fatherhood than I know about….well….motherhood. And I know next to nothing about motherhood.

Don’t tell my kids.

But, it’s Father’s Day so it seems that something needs to be said about those stalwart men out there.  These co-creators of our offspring who, despite conflicting DNA urges to run screaming from the village encampment, are now expected to bond, relate, nurture and practically breast feed the little darlings.

So here’s to the dudes out there who are trying really hard to pony up in this brave new world of fatherhood.

I’ve actually pondered (because that’s what I do…ponder) how much the role of father has changed and how quickly.

Now, I’m no spring chicken (and I’ve never understood what that meant anyway) but it seems to me there has been a pretty drastic change in the expectations put on dads since I was, well, a spring chicken.

Why, back in my day, fathers were rarely seen and often heard. And if you heard one, you ran away and hid because you were in a world of trouble.

Dads were put on earth to teach you things.

See, son, this is the peritoneum….

See, son, this is the peritoneum….

Important things, like:

  • The difference between a flat-head and Phillips screw driver
  • How to tie a solid knot
  • The correct way to gut a fish
  • The exceptionally high cost of water because Jesus Christ how long can it take to wash your privates and get the hell out???
  • If you’re a boy, having the MOST UNCOMFORTABLE AND POTENTIALLY LIFE-ALTERING discussion about sex in the history of discussions about sex or anything else for that matter
  • If you’re a girl, absolutely no discussion about anything. Ever. EVER. ASK YOUR MOTHER
  • The exceptionally high cost of electricity because what the hell are you doing that requires so much God damned light? Reading? Light a candle!
  • The fact that the odometer in a car does not change if the wheels don’t turn. A rather painful lesson when you’ve gone on a joy ride when your folks were in Florida on vacation and you did NOT know they wrote down the mileage and you said you just started it so it wouldn’t get too cold and you thought that was good for cars and no I didn’t actually drive away in it and, wait, what was the question?
  • How to eat a meal without letting your teeth hit the fork because that drives them insane….as a people
  • How to bait a hook without puking

And, they gave these straight-forward life lessons as impatiently and with a level of irritation normally reserved for much more heinous violations. Like terrorist attacks.

The biggest gift here though is bestowing upon us the opportunity to recount these lessons while impersonating them at every Christmas gathering for the rest of our lives.

Modern fathers still need to do all of the above. After all, I still know how to gut a fish, even if I don’t do it all that often.

(Though I have been sorely tempted on more than one occasion to reenact the fish gutting scene from Office Space. If I ever do, I will have my father to thank for the precise way in which I gut aforementioned fish.)

He’s actually not doing it right….

He’s actually not doing it right….

But, in addition to these lessons, they are now expected to look their kids in the eye in order to give them their full attention. They are expected to listen to their weird little stories that really don’t end up with a point. They have to at least pretend to laugh at their jokes that make absolutely no sense, have no comedic timing and an utter lack of irony.

So, hat’s off to you, modern day Dads.

Champions of childhood.

Protector of our prodigy.

Subjugator of our spawn.

We lift our collective glasses of chilled Chardonnay to you. Please keep teaching them weird stuff that would never even occur to a Mom (myself included).

And continue to bestow upon many generations the gift of mocking you at family functions. That gift alone is priceless.

Letter To My Pre-kid Self

Letter To My Pre-kid Self

Dear Pre-kid Irene,

Hello sweetie! How are you doing? Right about now you’ve just gotten back from a month travelling around Thailand. And it was an awesome trip, right? But, for some reason, with all the travel you’ve gotten to do, this time you came home feeling a little less fulfilled than you usually do.

Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens next because that would just be shitty. It would be like telling you the end of a movie, reading the last page of a book or letting you know that, as awesome as it looks in the trailer, the 2014 version of Godzilla is actually a little disappointing.

What I will tell you, is that you will be a mother one day. And, believe me on this, you are not in the least bit prepared. But, have faith, because no one is so at least you are not in the remedial class alone.

So, my independent girl who is swathed in a light of freedom that you are not taking nearly enough advantage of, let me tell you just a couple of things.

  1. Being pregnant is the scariest thing on the planet. It’s also pretty cool. But mostly it’s just scary because the bigger you get the more impossible it seems to get that thing out of you without dying.
  2. Don’t listen to your husband when he tells you shit about delivery he has absolutely no clue about. “Oh, the human body shuts all other functions down when it gives birth.” Really Mr. Science? Needless to say that is utter crap and you need to know that terrible stuff will happen in front of complete strangers. You do not have to apologize as much as you do when that time comes
  3. When you do have to get the giant bulge out, you do not actually die. There are moments when you wish you could, but you don’t.
  4. You will hallucinate due to lack of sleep. Just enjoy the ride and pretend you just took mushrooms like that time when you were camping and you saw Nixon’s face in that leaf. Don’t question, just go with it.
  5. Parenting is like getting a bikini wax. It’s excruciating when it happens, sending you into a sweaty fight or flight reaction that can, in some instances, result in the punching of a Russian esthetician (sorry Svetlana). But, after it’s over and all the irritation subsides, it’s pretty awesome.
  6. You will feel like a giant fish-out-of-water when you are around other parents and be under the mistaken impression that everyone has this parenting thing down except for you. Listen to this absolute truth: 99% of the other mothers are either on Prozac, drunk, or looking to get their hands on any mood-altering substance to survive this. The 1% who make the rest of us feel like shit are all assholes and you don’t want to party with them. You will be buying drugs from their kids one day.
  7. Speaking of partying….all that blow you did in the 80’s will actually serve you well once they hit puberty. I suspect our sense of smell is not as keen as it was before those years in San Francisco and that will literally save your life as it should dull the assault on that sense.
  8. Everything will go excruciatingly slow and way too fast at the same time. It must be some weird parental worm hole or a tear in the space/time continuum because it makes no sense, I know. But you’ll feel like you are swimming in Jello during the tougher times and then the nuggets of amazing times will fly by in a blur. I have no idea how to fix this. Just thought I’d let you know.
  9. Believe it or not, you actually end up not sucking as a mom. And, not sucking is pretty high praise when dealing with such an impossible task so take the not sucking and wear it like a badge of honor.
  10. Don’t let your responsibilities define you. You are more than your kids. You are more than your aging parents. You are more than your financial limitations. Do not lose yourself in the often overwhelming weight of what you are on the hook for. If you ignore all of the above, please remember this.

And with that, I send you on your merry, innocent way.

Oh, one last thing. A little later in the year, on September 11th, some terrible things are going to happen. The world survives and so do you.

Much love,

Irene the Elder

On Becoming A Mid-Life Orphan

On Becoming A Mid-Life Orphan

If all goes as it should, we all end up being orphaned at some point in our lives. If we don’t, our parents have outlived us and that either means you have died a tragic and early death, or you are the offspring of vampires. And everyone knows vampires can’t procreate so…..

Just because we may see the total logic in this sequence of events doesn’t mean it isn’t a huge mind-fuck.

Whether you have a healthy or therapist-inducing relationship with your parents (I suspect the latter is much more rampant….and interesting), no matter what age we are, we rely on having our parents on earth and kicking.

They are a touchstone to where we are in relation to death and the natural pecking order.

They are also the keepers of our personal history in a way that siblings and friends are not.

Having just entered orphan-hood myself, I’m still navigating the sans parents world. I suspect I will settle into it. Right now, however, I can’t stop the loop of a cockney accent asking for another bowl of porridge that keeps running through my head.

I think I’ve been watching way too much PBS.

This transition was made even stranger this past week when I was in Minnesota for my mother’s memorial service. After the very touching and lovely tribute, my sisters and I decided we’d check out our childhood house.

I had not been back since I was 10 years old.

The real shocker was that not a whole lot had changed. The house was still there, well-kept, familiar and much smaller than I remember.

As we stood around outside the house, no doubt looking like the most inept and best dressed thieves ever, a nice, young Midwestern man came out to start to mow our….his….lawn.

We let him know that we were not some sort of middle-aged organized crime ring (though I may have to start one of those) but that we had grown up in his house. Like all Midwesterners, he was exceptionally friendly and warm.

But here’s the crazy kicker. He asked us what our last name was and when we told him, he smiled widely and told us he had something for us.

He ran into his garage and came back moments later with a tarnished brass door knocker with the name “A.J. Barnett, MD” inscribed on the face.

We were the original owners of the house and this knocker hung on our front door, identifying the town doctor and intimidating every boy who came to take my sisters out on a date. And, 40 years later, it was kept and passed on from owner to owner until this nice father could give it back to us.

I couldn’t help but picture my parents hanging that knocker on the door of their new home, my Mom pregnant with me, her sixth (yes, I said SIXTH!!!) child, my father thinking about opening the doors of his new private practice in this rural outpost.

They would live in that house for over a decade, struggle with raising a hoard of kids, mend broken bones and broken hearts, struggle with starting and keeping a medical practice going, make lasting friendships and build many memories for us.

They were very much like me….except the six kids. I’m not insane after all!

 What the hell, Irish Catholics? Keep it zipped up why don’t ya!!

As I walked around my old back yard and watched my kids standing by the river that I played endless hours in, my new status of orphan didn’t feel so bad after all.

Man, I loved that sweater! I was pretty fond of that dog too.

Though I still have a real hankering for porridge.

I Was Plucked By The Original Jersey Girl

I Was Plucked By The Original Jersey Girl

So, with all the woes of the world, let me tell you the issue I am most outraged by and feel there needs more public awareness around.

My eyebrows.

I realize this may seem like a small issue to many of you but we all need a cause and mine is that weird strip of hair over each eye that most of us have.

I have a hate/hate relationship with my eyebrows. I wish it were the style to just shave them off – I’d be first in line for that fashion trend. I know that it would be like not having a belly button though.  We’d all look like something out of Alien Autopsy.

See, even Anne Hathaway looks creepy as hell.

I started out with nice big bushy Gorbachev eyebrows that met enticingly in the middle of my forehead.  Regrettably, this was before the whole bushy Brooke Shields look was totally awesome so I felt like a caveman amongst a sea of thin browed goddesses.

My 6th grade school picture.

As it happened, one summer my mom’s older sister came out to Oregon to visit from New Jersey. Let me just give you a little snapshot of Aunt Del.

Her real name was Ismania De La Parra. Really. But, justifiably hating her name, she went by Del.

She was about 4’10 with breasts that probably measured about the same. And she was what the word flashy was invented for.

Aunt Del had unnaturally pitch black hair with two streaks of gray shooting out of her temples. And, she played it up by having a ultra teased bouffant style that added at least a foot to her 4’10” frame.

She wore entirely too much makeup, tight clothes and high heels. She had a terrible temper, swore like a sailor and did it all with the purest Jersey accent you have ever heard.

I believe she was the Chilean predecessor to Snooki’s guidette.

My father barely tolerated her, my mom sighed and rolled her eyes a lot (which she did a lot just in general), but to me she was an exotic flower that made my heart beat fast.

One weekend while she was visiting we went camping. And, because I used to get car sick on these trips, my parents gave me some motion sickness drug that would knock me out for most of the weekend and wear off just in time to clean the fish they caught while I was comatose.

I still don’t think I ever had motion sickness. I believe this was their version of pharmaceutical babysitting and forced servitude.

At any rate, we piled into the station wagon with Aunt Del’s steamer trunks and headed to the hills. I promptly fell into my usual stupor.

Next thing I really remember was climbing out of a fuzzy drug-induced sleep on a cot in our tent and seeing Aunt Del stooped over her make-up mirror putting on fake eyelashes.

She looked over at me, shook her head and said “We have got to do something about those eyebrows, honey.”

I was still very groggy and confused as she started to go through her tackle box and finally found her tools of choice – a small scissor and a huge tweezer.

She pinned me down and went to work. It was an excrutiating experience that felt like it took hours. There was a lot of brow geography to cover. I sneezed a lot, yelled, squealed and teared up. She was relentless.

When she was done I felt like someone had taken a lawnmower to my forehead. She threw a mirror in front of me and I gasped. I had two barely visible lines over each eye. This was not a subtle change.

This “after” picture also perfectly captures my sense of confusion and dread.

When my parents got back to the campground after fishing, they took one look at me and shrieked. My father was livid with Aunt Del. A loud Irish New Yorker vs. a shrill Chilean Jersey girl. Trust me, it could make your ears bleed.

Everyone got over it eventually. Everyone but me that is. My eyebrows NEVER GREW BACK.

And now, we are back to the full brow look and here I sit, woefully inadequate and never being able to time the brow zeitgeist correctly.

And thus ends my tale of woe as I wait for the day someone discovers a cure for the thin-browed of our world.

Think I’ll hold a telethon.

Andy Williams, Shelley Winters and Me

Andy Williams, Shelley Winters and Me

I will blame this maudlin exhibit of nostalgia on two events from this past week: I had a birthday and my imaginary childhood husband passed away.

I could launch into a monologue about the Depression and the Great War. But, while I may feel that old, in reality I’m not.

Instead I will now launch into a monologue about being a little kid in the 60’s during the Not So Great War.

A few houses down from us lived a family by the name of McRuffian.

(This is not their actual name but I figured I’d made it pretty far in life without being sued so thought I’d keep that going. Plus, I’m totally loving this whole fictitious name thing. Our milkman was named Milky VonLactose. See…nothing but fun!!!)

I’m not sure how many kids the McRuffians had but there seemed to be a herd of them running around and terrorizing the neighborhood like a scene out of Clockwork Orange.

In fact, in our house, one of the worst things you could hear from our parent’s mouth was “Don’t be a McRuffian!” It snapped you out of whatever inappropriate and cruel behavior you were participating in immediately. The very name turned your blood to ice.

It seemed to me that Mrs. McRuffian was never fully clothed. I only saw her in a slip. I’m sure she wore clothes at some point but I, honestly, have no memory of it. In my mind I will always see Shelley Winters – disheveled and lusty.

A bitch is no match for a lady except in a brass bed, honey, and sometimes not even there. ~Tennessee Williams

To me, she was exceptionally intriguing. Oozing sexuality when, in reality, I think she was just tanked early in the morning. And, probably with very good reason.

But, to my romantic sensibility, that house was the Minnesota version of a steamy Tennessee Williams play. Drunk, sexy mother raising a house full of men’s men.

I wonder if she called her husband Big Daddy….

By the way, I know there was a Big Daddy somewhere in that house but I can’t come up with a single memory of him.

Mickey McRuffian was my first kiss….and it grossed me out because I thought he was a troll.

Anyhoo, my best friend was Matt Snottowski (see, again, so much fun!!), one of 11 kids that lived down the road from us. He had a perpetual stream of green snot running out of his nose but he let me boss him around so you all have him to blame for how pushy I am. He was my childhood enabler.

We played house a lot. I’d put on my mom’s apron and put some Andy Williams on our giant console record playing machine.

(Go look up “records” in the Google, kids.)

Andy Williams, to me, was the perfect husband. He seemed clean and looked like he smelled like Christmas. He sang of romance and wore the hell out of cardigan.

I’d greet my phlegmy pretend husband at the door to the sounds of Moon River as he carried a paper sack that was supposed to be a briefcase. He’d put the “case” down at the door, sit down on the couch and say “Get me a beer.”

To which I replied “Get your own damned beer and get me one while you’re at it.”

Clearly, I was ahead of my time.

(Oddly, I started this post right before Andy Williams passed away this week. So, a tip of my fedora to you, Andy! Perhaps we will marry in another life. And I bet you would get your own beer.)

Confessions Of A Chronic Over-sharer

Confessions Of A Chronic Over-sharer

“Everyone is wise until he speaks.”
~ Said by someone who has self control

Let me explain. As if I have to….

I come from a thick-skinned, sarcastic clan of Irish hooligans with excessive body hair who are masters at saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

I’m the youngest of six kids, raised in a predominantly Irish Catholic family with a dose of Chilean for spice. Though, according to my father, the Irish DNA can kill any other DNA with just a pithy quote from Oscar Wilde.

We lived in the frozen tundra of Sartell, Minnesota in the ‘60s amongst a community of over-breeders. The entire town seemed to be populated by about eight families of fifteen kids each. My parents were barren in comparison.

I went to St. Francis of Xavier Elementary School and thought Richard Nixon was cute. I feel I need to share this shame to illustrate my compulsive need for constant and full disclosure. I also had a mad crush on Glen Campbell and Andy Williams. But that doesn’t feel nearly as shameful as the Nixon thing, hindsight being 20/20 and all. And, to answer your question, yes, I have odd taste in men.

So, you get the picture. As a typical youngest child, I do a lot of stupid stuff. It doesn’t help that I inherited my father’s inability to keep words and actions inside our brains from making awkward public appearances.

Like the time I pantomimed male masturbation in front of my family during a game of Cranium.  As they all looked at me with gaping mouths I knew it was not the most appropriate choice to have made. And yet this didn’t occur to me until I had already simulated self-love in front of my parents.

In case you are wondering, I was acting out Master and Commander and I did win the round.

I have a rich familial history of this sort of behavior. Just to clarify, I don’t mean the public masturbation but the lack of editing oneself. I come from a long line of proud Irish impulsivity. And my father was the clan leader.

I can just imagine the insensitive blurting that occurred during the Potato Famine. There is a good chance we were actually kicked out of Ireland and just told people it was because of our insatiable need for starchy root vegetables.

I was mortified at my wedding when he asked my ultra-athlete sister-in-law if she still menstruated. This is very logical and appropriate wedding conversation for those of us who are afflicted with this disease. However, normal people may find it a bit unsettling. I’m sure it was a fleeting curiosity in his head and when he opened his mouth to take a bite of poached salmon, it simply fell out.

I don’t think my father was trying to insult or shock, I just think he didn’t really give a damn how his comments landed. I suspect he’d always been like this in his life so I won’t attempt to blame it on the insensitivity of the elderly.

Since my mother does not suffer the same affliction, she tended to sit in stunned silence. So, lacking any real counter-balance in my life, I started my career at a young age.

An early example: My first confession.

We had a super groovy macramé and guitar priest named Father Kramer at our church who I thought was the next coming of Bobby Sherman. Being the super cool dude he was, he decided it was a much gentler experience for children to sit in his office rather than the confessional to unload our myriad criminal acts.

As I sat swinging my feet on his big red leather office chair, he asked me if I had any misdeeds I felt I should confess to him and, of course, The Big Guy. It just so happened that I had bitten my sister Julie’s finger the week before. I maintain to this day that if you don’t want to get bit by a shark you don’t shake chum in its face so she should have known much better than to put it within biting distance. I drew blood.

After telling Father K this story, he looked at me solemnly and shook his head.

“You know, Irene, there is never a call for violence. Do you think you made the right choice in this situation?”

Not a second passed before, out of my little mouth tumbled:

“Well, shit Father, no one is perfect.”

My memory goes dark at this point either because I was literally smitten down by the very hand of God or all the drugs I’ve done subsequently have simply erased it. Either way, I do not recall getting punished for saying this so it only fed my belief that I was not in the wrong. This, in turn, helped to mold me into the solid overly honest and awkward adult I am today.

And I’m OK with that because, as we all know, no one is perfect.

I Hope They Don’t Serve Peanut Butter in Heaven

I Hope They Don’t Serve Peanut Butter in Heaven

I know I’m a little tardy on a Father’s Day tribute but I chose to write about porn last week instead so now a word about my Dad.

(By the way, I believe my father would not only support the porn decision but would have been surprised had I gone another route. And then he would have whacked me upside the head for being late because that’s very rude.)

My Dad seemed to be in a pretty crappy mood for a large portion of his life. Or, at least the portion of his life when I knew him. I try not to take that too personally though. He was Irish and that can tend to explain all sorts of things. And he was raised by the Christian Brother’s Catholic Church in New York City during the Depression and, since he only had peanut butter and bread to eat for long periods of time, he most likely had scurvy….which would explain everything that the Irish part didn’t.

I began to grasp the real reason he was so cranky in the past several years since I had kids. He and my mother produced six offspring.  I never did get them to fess up about their reason for this terrible lack of judgment. Did they actually intend to have six or was it the no-birth-control Catholicism? Either one paints them as lunatics.

When my father passed away 7 years ago, no one was especially surprised. For one thing, he was 84 years old so not exactly taken down in the prime of his life. Also, he was supposed to have died several times prior to this and didn’t, I believe, so that he could keep us slightly off kilter and nervous at all times.

My father’s wishes were to be cremated so me, my sisters and my mother found ourselves in a hushed conference room with soothing colors and quiet background music at the funeral home discussing the receptacle we would pour Dad into for his final burial. My father was a very no-frills, pragmatic man so an ornate urn was out of the question upon risk of being haunted for the rest of our lives with a litany of ghost rantings about wasteful behavior.

As you’d expect, we were all quite tired and punchy from emotion and worry about our mother and how she was going to fare through all this so we weren’t thinking particularly straight. As the nice young funeral boy (I believe that’s on his business card) went somberly through the absurdly large catalog of options for housing ashes, we all started to get the giggles. I can’t quite remember what may have started it (I think it had something to do with “veteran” vs. “veterinarian”, him being the former and not the later) but pretty soon there wasn’t a dry eye in the room and not for the correct reason. Our barely contained hysteria went something like this:

“Let’s just put him in a velvet Crown Royal bag and call it a day.”

“Is there some way we could fashion him into a fishing lure?”

“I say we scatter him all over the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Do we need a permit for that?”

The bad news is that we tend to be loud laughers and one does not normally expect to hear loud female cackling coming from a funeral home as if we were doing Jell-O shots at Senior Frog’s. We were gently escorted to the parking lot to avoid bothering the other, more appropriate mourners.  I don’t know if we were really 86’ed from a funeral home, but knowing how proud Dad would be if we were, it’s what I’m choosing to believe.

Here are some facts about my Dad:

He hated peanut butter

Used to have me believe he was a spy in the war and still had the recording devices and cameras embedded in his eyes and ears

Had a wicked, some would say cruel, sense of humor

Loved animals

He cheated at board games

Scared the shit out of us

Taught me how to skin and gut a trout

Smoked cherry-vanilla tobacco in his pipe

Hope you’re having a hoot, Dad, and they don’t serve peanut butter in heaven.

A Survivalist’s Guide to Talking to Kids (for people who are understandably creeped out by them)

A Survivalist’s Guide to Talking to Kids (for people who are understandably creeped out by them)

I’ve never been a “kid” person really. I have no doubt that this has been evident to my children at times and will be the root of many sessions with a licensed therapist.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Stephen King movies or read The Turn of the Screw too many times, but I’ve never quite trusted that they will not kill me and eat my brains the moment I turn my back on them. It doesn’t help that I have twins, which everyone knows can’t end well.

So, I have compiled a little Quick Reference Guide for those of you who, like me, feel at least mildly uncomfortable around children. You may print this out and laminate it if you like.

  • Many people try to talk to kids as if they are adults. However, I choose to talk to them like they are tiny drunk adults.
  • Most kids are smarter than we give them credit for. This is scary for us because if it weren’t for their short stature and lack of organizational skills, we would be their slaves.
  • Don’t feel bad if you come across a kid you don’t like. They most likely shot out of the womb of adults you also don’t like.
  • Only let your kids play with kids whose parents drink. I don’t think I even need to explain that one.
  • It’s OK to swear in front of kids – just spell out the words. This is my personal contribution to literacy in our nation.
  • Always wear earplugs and shin guards.
  • If you find yourself outnumbered by them at any time, refer back to your reading of Lord of the Flies in high school, ascertain who is positioning for alpha and take him or her out.
  • If the above doesn’t work, turn on any electronic device. You could turn on an empty blender and they will be mesmerized. It’s the great equalizer. And, I believe, the way they communicate with their mother ship.
  • You must always remember that children are lunatics. I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with truly insane people but have watched several episodes of Hoarders and My Strange Addiction, which I believe makes me an expert in mental illness. My conclusion is that you just avert your eyes and back away. Most mental health professionals would probably agree with me.

So, follow these simple steps to get through the awkward years (1-18) and they grow up enough to be your drinking buddy or your dealer.

You’re welcome.

My Mom Can’t Sing and Other Facts

My Mom Can’t Sing and Other Facts

“An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest”
– Spanish proverb

With Mother’s Day here, I feel compelled to write about the most influential person in my life – my mother. Her name is Viola and she just turned 89. She is in the final stages of dementia but continues to smile through it all like a champ.

If you think about it, dementia has its benefits. You can see the same movie or read the same book over and over and enjoy it just as much the first time as the tenth. And my stupid jokes and stories are always hilarious and fascinating no matter how many times I repeat them. So, in short, an 89-year-old with dementia is my perfect audience.

Here are some Viola-isms and Viola-facts:

“Always leave a bathroom cleaner than you found it or you’ll never be invited back.” To my knowledge, there are much bigger reasons to not invite me back to your home than this.

She has a terrible singing voice. She sounds just like Alfalfa from Little Rascals. It’s really quite disturbing.

Uncannily, she knew the moment I lost my virginity because I abruptly stopped talking about and asking questions about sex.

“Even the strongest man on earth cannot properly squeeze the water out of a sponge with one hand.” I have no idea how to prove or disprove this theory. But, she stated it with such conviction, I have to believe she has somehow witnessed this.

She taught me that to judge people was a waste of time. You wouldn’t judge a kindergartener for not acting like an MBA student so think about what “spiritual grade” a person might be in. (I am clearly in some sort of Special Education department.)

My mom always reminded me of Edith Bunker. Seemingly a bit ditzy on the outside but solid and smarter than everyone else in the room on the inside.

She graduated with a degree in Psychology with a minor in Latin Studies the same year I graduated from high school. She could psychoanalyze you in Spanish, thereby making you feel decidedly paranoid.

She regaled me and my friends at Mom’s Weekend in college about how terrific sex is after 50. The truth of this remains to be seen.

“I’ve taught my kids to be able to eat dinner with a king.” This skill has never been tested.

So, on Mother’s Day, I thank you, Vi, for being my biggest fan, my most honest critic, and my guide through the numerous missteps of my life with unwavering love and loyalty. I will always remember these things, even if you can’t anymore.