Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hatrophobia (Fear of Red Hats)

I have said it before and I'll say it again:  When I complete my 50th trip 'round the sun in ten and a half months or so, the first one to buy me a red hat gets a punch in the throat.

I mean it.

Ok, I probably don't mean it.  The pacifist in me never could throw a decent punch and the nice girl in me could never scoff at a gift - no matter how snarky.  (Yes, there's a little bit of nice girl in me.  I keep her under wraps most of the time, but she's there...) But I'd punch that person in the throat in my mind.

Fifty is rough.  My mom is one of the most youthful thinkers I know.  I can't keep up with her sometimes.  Well into her seventies, she still often says things like, "But I'm not middle-aged yet!" and shudders - as if to ward off the very thought.  (I'm not sure exactly how old she plans to be - but I'm guessing it's at least a little older than 150...) Anyone who knows her will back me up on this.  My mom thinks young.  Yet she was not immune to the curse of fifty.  That youthful, optimistic attitude left her for the few months preceding and following her fiftieth birthday.  She breezed through thirty and forty and sixty and seventy - but fifty brought her to her knees (albeit briefly).

You know who else thinks young and is over fifty?

If you're not familiar, then - oh, who am I kidding?  You're familiar.
I'm a little afraid of them.

(Ok, I had my own little not-so-secret society in college that wore a lot of red and purple (holla, sisters and sweethearts of Alpha Nu!), but that's another story for another day.  Today's story is about Red Hats.)

I had a bit of a rough day today and decided that cooking was an additional drudgery I just couldn't bear to face.  "Take me out for a nice dinner!"  I said.

"Put on your Sunday best, we're going to O'Charley's!"  was the reply.

Anxious to relax and unwind a bit, we were led to our table.  "We have several margarita specials tonight." our server said, as she showed us into a room off the bar.

"So I see....."

It took me a few minutes to take it all in, but only a split second to realize what had happened.  We had been seated on the perimeter of a Red Hat Society Halloween Party.  A group of a dozen or so women of a certain age were gathered in the center of the room.  There were elaborate red and purple centerpieces on several tables and a huge collection of gifts on the floor, gaudily presented in red and purple and sequins and feathers.  Huge.  Like - not quite wedding reception huge, but darn close - and with way more red and purple.  A broomba in a red witches hat with a long veil bumped our table and cackled.  What's a broomba, you ask?  I don't know if that's what it's really called or not, but it was like a roomba with a broom on top.  And a red witches hat.  I mentioned that, right?  

Did I tell you that the women were in costume?  Because they totally were. There was a cigarette girl, complete with red sparkly hat.  There was a Native American with long gray braids and a strand of red and purple beads.  There was a prairie woman with a red calico bonnet.  There was a flapper.  Groucho Marx and Tweety were in attendance. There was a gypsy fortune teller with a beautiful red silky head scarf.  There were two women in fright wigs and otherwise typically Red Hat attire - red hats, big boas - they were each wearing name tags.  From what I could glean, they were dressed as each other.  These costumes, by the way, were not just thrown together.  They were well thought out and really elaborate.  There were a lot of margaritas.  

A lot.

It was quite a spectacle.  And these ladies were having a ball.  They grouped and re-grouped for photographs.  (And no, I didn't take any.  It didn't seem sporting.) They laughed and talked and ordered more margaritas.  The servers had a hard time herding them to their tables to take their orders.  As soon as that task was accomplished, they were up and laughing again.

Lea said, on the way home, "I can't wait till I'm old enough to join that club!"

Spectacle is kind of her thing.

I said, "Not me.  The first person to buy me a red hat gets a punch in the throat."

"I am so buying you a red hat."

I gave her the stink eye and raised my fist in a manner that I hoped was light-hearted, but still menacing.

"I'll risk it"

"Right in the throat, kiddo!"

I do look pretty good in purple, though.  And I do like margaritas.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Scenes From a Marriage: A Play in Three Acts

Act I

The stage is split to indicate two separate apartments.  In the apartment on the left, a woman is sitting on an overstuffed off-white sofa eating from a take-out container.  Two cats have settled into her lap and she holds the container above their heads as she eats.  It is awkward, but she doesn't want to disturb them.  The large console TV is on and her empty eyes focus on it.  There are books on the coffee table and baskets filled with yarn and abandoned projects overflowing onto the floor.  There are free weights under the table that serves as a bar, but they are covered with a thick layer of bohemian velvet.

In the apartment on the right, a man is sitting on a brown and tan sofa with simple lines.  He is eating a bowl of cereal.  His eyes are focused on a TV in an entertainment center that also houses an elaborate stereo system.  The decor is minimalist - the apartment is clean and tidy, with the exception of the dining room table.  The table itself - as well as every chair surrounding it - is piled high with papers, envelopes and magazines. A glimpse into the bedroom reveals a framed poster of a cut-away of the Starship Enterprise hung carefully over the bed.

This scene lasts several minutes - long enough to make the audience uncomfortable with the loneliness being represented.

He consults a piece of paper and sighs.  He shrugs and picks up the phone.  We hear it ring in her apartment.  She picks it up and smiles.

They move to the front of the stage and a curtain drops, obscuring the apartment scene.

Both still with the phone to their ear, we see other characters swoop in and out - men embracing her, women embracing him - they move on and off the stage quickly, as the couple step slowly towards each other.  Sometimes they are both being embraced by another - sometimes just one, while the other waits on the phone - their movement towards each other is slow, but it is steady and inevitable.  When they finally meet, center stage, they take each others hands.  The cats purr and rub up against their ankles.  They bring their heads together in a kiss.  They embrace with one arm each, while the other reaches out to grab the curtain and pull it around them, obscuring them from the audiences view.

Act II

As the curtain rises, the man and woman are sitting side by side on a plaid sofa which is located to the side of the stage.  The room is littered with toys.  A toddler is playing on the floor and an infant is sleeping in a wooden cradle next to the sofa. The woman puts her head on the man's shoulder and he embraces her.  The toddler abandons her toys and crawls up so that she is somehow occupying both parents' laps. The embrace that began between the parents happily opens up to accept the child.  The baby cries and the mother extricates herself from the group hug and leans over the crib to pick up the infant.  She paces the floor, patting the baby, while the father and the toddler look through the pages of a book  They catch each others eyes and smile.

The man takes the toddler by the hand and leads her offstage.  The mother, carrying the infant, follows them.

The man enters the stage again and sits on the sofa.  He picks up the remote and turns on the TV.  The woman enters the stage shortly thereafter. She picks up the toys on the floor and places them in a bright pink toy box.  When she is through, she sits next to him on the sofa.  They hold hands.

A preschooler enters the stage.  She is dressed as Princess Leia.  Her wig - made of yarn - is askew and she is struggling with a plastic light saber that is taller than she is.  She makes it to center stage and bows. At the sound of applause, she bows again, with more flourish.  She bows to the left.  She bows to the right.  She curtsies.  The parents rise from their spot on the sofa and gently coax her offstage.  She peeks around the curtain for one last bow.

A school aged child and a pre-schooler enter the stage.  The older child is wearing round eyeglasses and is carrying a book.  Her younger sister is dressed in a blue and white checkered pinafore over a white blouse.  Her socks are blue and her shoes are red and glittery.  She carries a basket with three stuffed dogs - one black, one brown and one gold.  She is walking quickly to keep up with her sister.  The older child crosses the stage and sits on the sofa.  She opens her book.  Her parents flank her and become engrossed in the pages with her.  The youngest puts her basket down on the stage and dances with her stuffed dogs, each one in turn.  As she twirls her way off stage, the oldest picks up her abandoned basket and follows her.  The parents close the gap on the sofa, meeting in a half embrace.

Two school aged children enter the stage.  They are wearing capes and battling each other with wands. The oldest grabs an upright bass from offstage.  She drops her cape and begins to play it with her wand.  The youngest pulls a second wand from a pocket inside of her cape and begins playing air drums wildly and dancing.  As she reaches her sister, she spins the bass, pulling both girls and the instrument off stage.  The mother rests her head on the father's shoulder.

Two pre-teens enter the stage.  They are both dressed in black.  One is wearing gothic makeup.  Both are wearing concert T-shirts.  They cross the stage as though each step they take is torture.  The parents shake their heads at each other and smile. They lean towards each other and kiss.  The curtain falls.


The curtain opens on the man and the woman at the dinner table.  The table is at the front and center of the stage.  It is set beautifully and they are sharing a bottle of wine.  He lifts his glass to her and she meets it with her own.  A teenaged girl with bright pink hair crosses the stage behind them quickly, takes a roll from the basket on the table and exits just as quickly.  Her phone never leaves her ear. She is talking animatedly and barely looks at her parents during the brief moment that she is onstage.  Another teenaged girl with long brown hair enters the stage from the other side.  She sits with her parents for just a moment before her phone buzzes.  She looks at it, smiles, and leaves the table - walking then running offstage.  She looks over her shoulder briefly just as she exits.  The man reaches across the table and takes the woman's hand.

Act III isn't finished yet.  But I bet it will be good.  Because that man and that woman?  They sure do like each other.

Happy Anniversary, Darlin'. Sixteen sweet years and counting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From Huey Lewis and the News

First, Huey let us know that it was hip to be square.  This was good news for a chickadee who has always been decidedly more L7 than not.

He reminded us that the best drug would be 'one that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you".  Why, being with you is legal (in most states) and has no known side effects.  Once again, rockin' good news.

He informed us that there wasn't much you couldn't accomplish through the power of love.

Good lessons, all.  We don't always give Mr. Lewis his philosophical props.

Recently my family took a giant step and cancelled our landline.  I realize that this brings us pretty firmly up to date.  As long as the date is 2006.  There is probably a Back to the Future reference there, somewhere, but I'll let you figure it out for yourself.


I'd balked at this decision more than the rest of the family had.  I knew it made sense.  I knew it was the reasonable thing to do.  I knew I - we - needed to step into the 21st century.  I knew it - but I didn't love it - and I couldn't quite figure out why.

Then Huey Lewis and the News, in their infinite wisdom, figured it out for me.

I was in a store and they were playing Stuck With You on the canned music.  The answer - as I might have known it would be - was right there.  When they got to the lyric, "We are bound, like all the rest - by the same phone number....." I stopped listening because I was busy experiencing a eureka moment of divine revelation.  That was what had been bothering me.  That was the source of my reluctance.  We - Tom and I - Tom and the girls and I - were no longer bound by the same phone number.

We had been divided.

I think this struck me as particularly sad because my girls are certainly at an age where they are testing their wings.  I had always prided myself on the fact that family dinners were much more the norm than the exception.  Now they are rare.  "I'll just grab something on my way to ___________" is much more common.  Two of us are there - or three - in various configurations - but rarely all four.

The girls would much rather be in their rooms - on the rare occasions when they are home - than in our shared living space.

This is normal.  This is reasonable.  This is even - probably - desirable - at least on some hypothetical level.

Knowing that it's normal and reasonable and psychologically desirable doesn't make it any less sad.

The rest of that lyric goes, "We are bound, like all the rest - by the same phone number, all the same friends, and the same address..."  Soon, we won't all share the same address, either.

Oh, Huey, you are a fount of deep and profound knowledge!  Where is the song about living through letting my baby birds leave the nest?  It may be normal, reasonable and desirable - but it's also just damn sad!

Help me, Huey Lewis.  You're my only hope.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sunrise Over the Suburbs

My Seasonal Affect Disorder has been well documented (and I do apologize for that).  There is an upside, though.  The depression that I feel in the absence of the sun is rivaled in intensity by the elation I feel in it's presence.  And no sunny days are better than the first sunny days of spring or the last sunny days of autumn.  But I'll take a sunny summer day.  Hell, I'll even take a bright sunny winter day.  It's those gray winter days that.... no - we're not talking about that today.  Today is all about the sunshine.  It's a sunshine day.  Sunshine, almost all the time, makes me high.  Works for the Brady Bunch.  Works for John Denver.  Works for me.

I drive both of my girls to school.  With the exception of those dreary days that we're not talking about today - those long short days of winter - I get to watch the sun rise every morning.  It is always a pleasant way to start the day.  Sometimes it is spectacular.  Sometimes it just - strikes me.

This morning was one of those times.

I was taking Liv to school when I first saw it peek it's gorgeous orange face over the horizon.  The sky around it was pink and the starkness of the silhouettes of the trees juxtaposed against the softness of the sky was nothing short of breathtaking.  I mentioned this to Liv.

"I love that big ole orange sun!  I want to hug it and kiss it and squeeze it!"

"Don't.  You would die."

My youngest is quite logical - not prone to flights of fancy or romance. 

"Metaphorically.  I want to hug it and kiss it and squeeze it metaphorically.  Not actually."

"Good.  Because it's just a big ball of gas, anyway."

"Oooooooh!"  I squealed, as we turned a corner, "Look at it in the rear view mirror!  It even looks good from behind!  Oooooooh I just want to kiss it on the lips!'

"It doesn't have lips, Mom.  Big ball of gas.  Remember?"

Now she is not quite as cynical as this is making her sound.  She was smiling.  We were playing.  It was that delightful sort of play when the parent knows that she is being over the top and embarrassing and the child rolls her eyes and pretends she's mortified but in reality is pretty amused.  (I'll keep telling myself that, anyway.)

"I'm gonna pull in here and take a picture."

"You can't go in there, Mom - it says buses only."

"All the buses are gone.  And I'll only be a second.  Here", I said, handing her my phone, "jump out and take a quick picture."

"I am not jumping out of the car."

"Fine.  I will."

I took the picture.  It was pretty.  Not as pretty as the sunrise actually was - it was taken with my phone, for Pete's sake - but pretty.  I jumped back in the car.

"You are a rule breaker."  

"I am a scofflaw."

"Scofflaw?  One who scoffs at the law?"

"It's a real word.  I looked it up.  Isn't it great?" I said, as we pulled up to the drop-off point.

"It's pretty great."

It's all pretty great.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

World Teacher's Day

Today is World Teacher's Day.

Please try not to die of jealousy if you do not have a sport coat this groovy.  It doesn't work for everyone.

As most of you know, I spent the better part of my adult life as a teacher.  Although I am no longer in the classroom, my immediate response to the question, "What do you do?" is, unfailingly, "I am a teacher."  This was my response no matter what grade or subject I was teaching.  This was my response even in those years when I'd walked away from my profession altogether and was a full-time stay-at-home mom.  Teaching was more than a job to me, it was the source of my identity.

I am a teacher.

I come from a family of teachers.  Many of my relatives are teachers.  Some have retired or moved on to other lines of work, but I assume that they - like me - still identify as teachers.  I know I still think of them in that manner.

My dad was a teacher.

He was one helluva teacher.

He was never voted teacher of the year, or anything like that - and it bothered me a lot more than it bothered him.  He said that he was there to teach - not to make friends - not to have his students like him or think he was cool - to teach.

And he did.

He was extremely dedicated.

If a student struggled in his class, all they needed to do to get his help was ask.  He was always willing to put in extra time and effort to make sure that his points had gotten across.
Algebra is easy.  Once you know the right equation to use, you just plug it in and crank it out.

He cared.

Most students saw a strict teacher who taught an unpopular course.  Some of the lucky ones saw a man with an extra dry wit. It's cool that not everyone recognized or appreciated that.  It made it all the much sweeter for those who did.

Recently I was going through some old pictures with my mom.  I suppose it's something folks tend to do when a loved one passes on.  We came across a whole box of pictures of him that had been taken for the yearbook.  My mom, upon seeing the way I lingered over those shots, offered them to me.  I didn't take them all, but I took the ones that were taken during the time that my being a high school student intersected with him being a high school teacher.  At the time, by the way, I really hated that. Funny how time changes perspective.  

I had been having some difficulties dealing with my father's passing.  I was at his bedside, along with my mother and my sister, when he died.  We were all glad that we had been there - no regrets.  The problem was - in the months following his passing - that became the source of my predominant memories of him.  When I thought of him, try as I might to make it otherwise, it was as he was in those final painful hours.  

Somehow, those pictures helped.  How lucky was I - to know my father as the man he was in the home and also as the teacher he was in the school.  I still haven't been able to pull up more recent memories with any degree of clarity, though I am trying - but now - thanks to these pictures - I am able to remember him in a capacity that was lost to me many years ago.

Or was it?

For me, it was his legacy.

Thanks, Daddy.

Monday, October 3, 2011


As part of my job, I found myself in a kindergarten classroom today.  As I was walking in the door - I hadn't even gotten the teacher's attention yet - a little boy I'd never met before looked at me with the most earnest big brown eyes, literally dropped his jaw, gasped aloud and said, "You're pretty."

I thanked him and smiled, then went about my business with his teacher.

Now let me be clear.  I have worked with little ones a lot.  I know that *gasp* you're pretty doesn't mean the same thing coming from a five year old that it means from a teen or an adult - teens and adults have established standards of beauty.  From a five year old the more likely interpretation of  *gasp* you're pretty would be something like, *gasp* you really resemble my mommy (or aunt, or babysitter, or someone else who loves me and makes me feel special.  I suppose at my age, grandmother would have to figure into that list, too.  Sigh.).  It could mean, *gasp* you look kind and I think I want to see if I might like you.  It might even mean, *gasp* you are wearing my favorite color.

I know this.

I fully grok this.

And yet.....

Even with complete cognitive awareness of where the compliment came from and how it was probably intended, it was still a darn nice way to start the day.

May you have a gasp-worthy day as well!