Saturday, August 28, 2010

On A Beautiful Death (Or, A Toast to Rose)

I don't watch much TV, but once I got over my Sex and the City-in-syndication addiction, I moved on to Ghost Whisperer. I am not ashamed to say I love that show. However, I am on the fence about the concept of spirits only remaining earthbound because of unresolved issues. I kind of liked imagining my grandfather and my step-sister watching over me. I'll even confess that when my cats suddenly stare at the air and move their ears, I like to think it's my other dear cats who've passed on. Except that Ghost Whisperer says spirits at peace cross over into the light.

So much for being watched over in good faith.

There are times, though, when imagining a spirit moving on is a soothing thing. I'm reminded of this as I prepare to go to my best friend's grandmother's funeral tomorrow. I was literally born with my best friend (our moms are best friends and conveniently had their daughters eight days apart in the same hospital), so I knew "Nana", as she was affectionately called, all my life.

When my best friend and I were seniors in high school "Pop-Pop" passed away, making Nana a widow. I remember the tears at that funeral and wondering how long my own grandparents would remain in my life. Five years later, I lost both my maternal grandparents. And eleven years after that both my paternal grandparents. (Yes, I thought it strange that both couples passed in the same year.) So by the age of 33, I had no more grandparents.

Now, at 43, I will say my good-byes to Nana, who lived to be 98 years old. I think most people will understand when I say that I'm not sad. I'm not even sad for my best friend and her parents. Don't get me wrong; I feel their loss and know that mourning is appropriate and natural. But when I think about Nana's life, the love she had around her always from her local children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, I feel joy for Nana, and I hope her family does, too. I want to rejoice in the good health that she experienced for the majority of her life. No painful diseases or crippling syndromes to wear down her days. No estrangement from family members she might have wronged. No living to watch her own children or grandchildren die before her.

That's not to say that Nana didn't have her worries and strife. We all do. Especially if we're blessed to live 98 coherent years. She was even lucky enough to have her best girlfriend by her side her entire adult life. That would be "Grandma", my best friend's other grandmother. And Grandma is still with us, which I suppose means Grandma will be one of the saddest people in attendance tomorrow.

So today I memorialize Nana, aka Rose. I send my love and thoughts to my best friend, Suzanne, and her family, and I pray for Nana to cross over so she can be with Pop-Pop.

I also send my prayers to all my blogfriends so that you, too, may be as lucky as Rose and have friendship, family, good health, and a sound mind for as long as time allows. Only then can death be beautiful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Lessons from the Lil' Ones (Or, All fanagle and no jenk)

Three women + three glasses of wine + Japanese food + twelve flavors of frozen yogurt = four hours of girl talk and lots of revelations. Ah, the wondrous bonding of girl time. It's the reason we live longer as widows than men do as widowers...we've always got our girls. This particular dinner was with an old friend I hadn't seen in ages and a friend of hers I'd met once before. It's nice to know that in adulthood, three is not a crowd but rather a trifecta of the Sisterhood, the Motherhood, and the Wifehood. The only reason we stopped talking after four hours was because of our obligations to the latter two hoods. But our continuous thread of conversation could have gone on indefinitely.

The most enjoyable part of our talk involved our tales of motherhood. Among the three of us there are seven children between the ages of 8 and 16, all full of insight and self-taught life lessons to share. Here are the top 10 lessons that may just teach you something you might otherwise have not known.

Lesson #1 (from a 9-yr-old): Just because you can doesn't mean you should, as in, "Just because you can throw the cat over the stair rail doesn't mean you should." (Yeah, my mind was spinning too, wondering why that example seemed to her the best illustration.)

Lesson #2 (from a 9-yr-old): I'm old enough to be left alone. But when you want me to do chores, I'm just a little girl.

Lesson #3 (from an 11-yr-old): Even girls who get Straight A's can be ripe for a good fist fight because "Impulse control isn't all it's cracked up to be, Mom."

Lessson #4 (from a 12-yr-old): When a twelve-year-old gets her period for the first time, it is NOT okay to tell Dad...unless he's going to take her out for ice cream. Coldstone Creamery works best.

Lesson #5 (from a 10-yr-old): If you dial 9-1-1 and then hang up immediately, the police will still come. It might take 10 frickin minutes, but they'll come, and they'll lecture you about wasting their time when they could have been out saving someone else's life who may be dying right now because of you. (This is great, because Mom doesn't have to inflict any punishment. The shame of it all is enough for the child.)

Lesson #6 (from a mother): When going on a family cruise, make sure to take Grandma along so she can occupy kids long enough to give you and Hubby "private" time. Five minutes should do it.

Lesson #7 (from an 8-yr-old): You're never too old to sleep in your parents' bed. It stops them from making strange noises in the middle of the night, plus if you fanagle it right, you get your bedroom redecorated as an incentive to return to it.

Lesson #8 (from an 11-yr-old): If your parents are strict and you are frugal enough, you can eventually save your allowance to buy your own cell phone. Then you just have to butter up Grandpa so he'll add you to his cell phone plan.

Lesson #9 (from a mother of a pre-teen me): YA is hot right now. Forget what you want to write and go write a YA novel. Make some money, and then go do what you want. (She so doesn't get why I write...and apparently believes I'll never make money doing it.)

Lesson #10 (from a 9-yr-old): When Mommy and Daddy make scary noises at night from behind their locked bedroom door, and you ask Mommy if she's okay, and she says, "I fell down, and it hurt. But I'm all right now. Go to bed," ...that is jenk.

With these newfound tidbits of knowledge, I hope you parents out there can sleep a bit easier. Just knowing that your kids have become masters of manipulation and bedroom espionage should be enough to inspire your own time with your peeps. After all, it is the battle wounds and adventures that unite us the hood that is parenting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Justin Bieber (Or, I said, On Justin Bieber! What, are you deaf?)

I survived the Justin Bieber concert! I said, I survived the Justin Bieber concert! What? What? I can't hear you. You want me to stop screaming? I'm not screaming! And what's that damn ringing noise? Oh yeah, I survived the Justin Bieber concert, but my eardrums didn't.

And so it goes. 22,000 fans - most of whom were female and under the age of 15 - screamed for Justin and put the power of performance amps to shame. Female screams have a higher decibel level than male screams, and young female screams are higher than mature female screams. Therefore, it stands to reason that before Justin Bieber actually goes through puberty, he will be too deaf to hear his own voice cracking.

Until that day, however, I have to admit the boy can put on a show. He can dance like all get-out, play guitar while suspended in a sparkling ball, and play the drums. Who knew? I've also heard he writes much of his own music. Can Taylor Swift dance like that? I'm just sayin'.

It's a good thing the boy put on a great show because I know three little girls who would have given him what-for if he hadn't pulled through. The thrill of being at his show was brand new for the girls when we pulled up to the arena. I say brand new because until that moment, they had believed we were all going to girls' night out dinner. They'd been good sports about it all since what they really wanted to do that night was see Justin Bieber, but with ticket prices being prohibitively expensive n' all...they understood. Except that one week earlier, my friend had scored a handful of free tix for club seats. At that moment, the made-up girls' night out story was born as she and I secretly looked forward to the all-u-can-eat smorgasbord and open bar. Yeah, baby, open bar, which is the least they could provide to all the parents who were doomed to lose their hearing before the night's end.

So we're heading out to our special surprise dinner location when we "accidentally" get stuck in arena traffic. With three girls and three moms in the car, the next few moments went something like this:

Presley: "Why aren't we moving? I'm hungry."
Me: "Sorry, girls. Bieber traffic."
My daughter: "Aw, Mom!"
Me: "I should have known better. Sorry."
Denise: * crosses arms over chest* "Now we have to watch all those people going into the concert. That's so unfair!"
Denise's mom: *smirk*
Presley: "Can't you get in the faster lane? Over there."
Me: "Neh, we're already in this lane."
Presley's mom: "I have an idea."
Presley: *rolls eyes*
Me: "What?"
Presley's mom: *digs through purse and then waves tickets in the air* Let's go to the Justin Bieber concert!

Here is the look from the backseat...

And here we all are ready to have our eardrums blown out enjoy the concert.
Here's the proof we were there. See the Justin Bieber screens in the background? Like my daughter's braids? It took me almost an hour to do these but amazingly less than two minutes for her to take them out the next day. Argh. Still, it was worth it since I caught her on camera...AT THE JUSTIN BIEBER CONCERT!

For the next 24 hours, I was her hero. But life has now resumed normalcy since hero worship dies an even faster death than those braids did.

Ah, Justin...may your shining star burn slightly longer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Looking Back (Or, A Tribute to Karen Carpenter...and my mother)

"When there's no getting over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won't come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won't last a day without you." In 1972, Karen Carpenter's silky voice sang to me from my mother's record player as the hum of the vacuum cleaner tried to drown out the ill-fated singer. At six years old, I believed my mother to be happiest while cleaning house on a quiet Saturday and listening to her favorite 33, the Carpenters.

(If you're asking yourself what a 33 is, you were born too late to appreciate the magic of Karen and Richard Carpenter, the duo who shaped my childhood and so many of the pleasant memories I have of my mother. I should also mention Carole King's Tapestry album, in case you're feeling motivated to research mellow rock of the early 1970s.)

By the time I was old enough to collect 45s (again, if you're too young, look it up on Wikipedia), I had moved on to Elton John, Olivia Newton John, and Grand Funk Railroad. But the Carpenters were my cornerstone of childhood happiness.

Fast forward a number of years to last Saturday night as I'm cleaning up the kitchen after a wonderful meal cooked by my amateur chef of a husband. He's out doing exercise, and the kids are playing quietly. (Only a parent can truly appreciate the sanctity of such a  moment.) I turn on the stereo and select the Carpenters' A Song for You from the CD player. This 1972 album includes the song I Won't Last a Day Without You, whose lyrics I cited above. Nostalgia is a dastardly demon, and as I raise my voice to belt out the chorus of this song - surprising myself by knowing every last lyric even though it has been a lifetime since I've heard the song - my throat locks itself in a knot of tears that sneak up from Lord knows where so that I can't even finish the chorus without crying.

Why? you ask.

I do not know.

All I know is that my tears smack me across the face and say, "That's what you get for letting sleeping dogs lie."

"What sleeping dogs?" I ask.

Nostalgia gently lays its hand on my shoulder. "You've just had a nice family dinner (even though your daughter refused to eat the delectable saffron fish and garlic broccoli), and now you're enjoying the meditative peace of cleaning up...just like your mother used to do. How can you not get it, Wendy?"

I stop wiping down the dining room table and sit for a moment. I listen to Karen Carpenter and I think of my mother. There really were so many things that were unpleasant about my childhood, but when I listen to the Carpenters, all I can think about is how beautiful those years were, how safe and happy I felt at times.

In these days of parenting, I often find it to be the hardest job I've ever had. I think back to my own childhood and imagine my mother having it so much easier than I do. But the truth is that she had her own stuff to deal with, which didn't come to light until I was older. I've always associated the music of the Carpenters with a feeling of peace and security. But this particular evening, as I wash dishes and clean as my mother once did while the children played in the secure confines of their home, Karen Carpenter's voice speaks to me. She reminds me that very little is actually as it seems, and sometimes that is AOK. We all have some childhood memories best viewed through rose-colored glasses. We do this for self-preservation. But if we dare to wake the sleeping dogs and stir up trouble, we're reminded that chaos is a natural part of life and that it's all right to live in a world that's less than rosy, more of a muddled color that isn't always pretty.

Listening to the Carpenters sing that night made me see that my childhood wasn't perfect, nor was it terrible. It was a mixed drink of peace and comfort stirred with insecurity and longing. But once swallowed, it went down smoothly and settled in my heart with an aftertaste more sweet than bitter, which is why the soothing voice of Karen Carpenter could bring me to tears of sweet nostalgia.

Earlier that day, I had realized that my children had long reached the age of remembering childhood events, and I asked myself what they would remember about this time when they were older. How would they view me? Despite the arguing and age-appropriate power struggles, will they grow into adults who hear a certain song and get choked up because it reminds them of me?

I wondered. And I hoped. (Later on, I asked my daughter if there was any music that reminded her of me. She said, "Spanish music and Beautiful Girls [by Sean Kingston] because you like that song." She's right.)

As I tried to resume singing along with the Carpenters, I remembered my mother. Despite the bad times, she was my rock, the solid stone of security in my life. The love that kept me strong. Even though we don't speak every day, she is still a crucial part of my life. So to her, I dedicate the Carpenter's lyrics, with a slight change. (We'll call it poetic license.)

"When there's no getting over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won't come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won't last a day without your love."

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Free Hugs (Or, What the world needs now is love sweet love)

I'm about four years too late to spread some sunshine. So deflating. My depression began a few days ago when a Facebook friend posted the video below. I was awed by the outcome and felt motivated to make it happen in my hometown. After further research into the Free Hugs Campaign, however, I learned that people from cities all over the world had jumped on board long ago - about 4 years to be exact - and had learned the hard lesson that most town law enforcement agencies were interrupting the movement by demanding permits. You concerns and all...because hugging can certainly spread the worst of the worst diseases, right? Or we could knock someone over and then, hello...did someone say lawsuit?

I even had another friend on board (remember Jen from Finding Thesea?), and we were thinking of who else we could draft to join us on our day of doling out free hugs. We were trying to decide which song we'd use to accompany the awe-inspiring video we'd eventually post after our day of sharing the love. (What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love???) We'd even gone so far as to talk about what clothing we should wear to appear appropriately welcoming but not too enticing (a challenging feat for two hot ladies like us...maybe). It was going to be the community service event of our summer.

But no.

Instead, I invite you to view the video and feel the warmth that Jen and I would have loved to pass on. If this is the only way I can do it, then by God, this is how it will be done. I send a free hug to every one of you, and to all the people in your lives who I don't know, and to all the people in your town, and to all your followers. I encourage you to share the love by linking, if you'd like. I don't want this to sound like an appeal for more followers, so link at your own discretion. I'm truly just in it for the hugs.