Sunday, November 30, 2008
I'll admit it. I was one of those people who downplayed my birthday.
Good Friend: "Now when is your birthday?"
Me: "Oh, I'll never tell!" Ha ha. Chuckle chuckle. Or...
Family Member: "Is there anything special you would like for your birthday?"
Me: "Who me? Oh no, you don't have to get me anything." Change subject.
Sound familiar, ladies? (Men don't have this quirk.) We don't want anyone thinking that we actually thought about ourselves, do we? How selfish. If we divulge our birthdates, does that mean that we are secretly hoping we'll get lots of presents? How greedy. No, by golly, we are women---queens of self-effacement, masters of self-denial. That was me, yup.
Until I became good friends with Candice.
Candice is happy with life. Were you to meet her, that would be obvious. She would look straight into your eyes, put her hand on your forearm, offer a beguiling smile, and ask you sincere questions about yourself. When the initial meeting was over, and she said goodbye, repeating your name (she'd remembered it from the introduction!) you would feel as if you mattered to her. You would realize that you liked Candice and would be sorry to see her go.
Candice taught me a lesson about birthdays. They are causes for celebration of life. Your life.
When it was time for me to celebrate her birthday with her for the first time, I learned something unique about Candice. Her birthday celebration lasts for three days.
"I begin accepting presents on Candice Eve, " she told me, "the day before my birthday. We have treats and maybe we'll do something as a family. The next day, my actual birthday, we call Candice. There are more presents and then the cake and ice cream. My husband will take me out to dinner. The third day, we call Post-Candice. I still take presents on that day and we indulge in leftover goodies. That way people who are late for my birthday don't feel bad because we are still celebrating Post-Candice." And Candice always tells her age. Of course she's only thirty.
I've never looked at birthdays the same way. Neither does my son, who now insists that we celebrate Jeremiah Eve, Jeremiah, and Post-Jeremiah.
Here's my challenge, ladies. On your next birthday, instead of downplaying, celebrate your special day for three days. Accept presents. And always tell your age.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
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I remarked to my mother once, in a casual conversation, that when I was a little girl, I always wanted a Troll doll, but never got one. You know the ones I’m talking about--the ugly little mostly naked big-eyed frizzy haired flat-footed tan dolls with extended arms. Since I was in college when I made the remark to my mother, I assumed she would just hear my wistful complaint and empathize with me. Nothing more. All kids have had similar disappointments, right?
Not my mom.
I soon began receiving gifts of Trolls from my mother. She worked checking in donations at the local Goodwill store and had the ability to preview cool merchandise to buy after it reached the store. It seemed as if the Troll supply was endless. Could there actually have been that many people in the world who would give away the object of my desire?
Even after I moved away from home I would find Trolls anywhere and everywhere after my mother had visited. Under my pillow with a note attached: “Ouch, you’re squishing me!” In my freezer with a note saying “Hey I’m freezing in here!” In my bathroom, in my spice cupboard, behind a picture on the mantel. Sometimes it would be weeks before I would come across a hidden troll and my mother would laugh that it had taken me that long to find it.
Big trolls, little trolls, a troll with emerald green hair and a leprechaun outfit, trolls with rainbow hair, trolls with elaborate outfits or simple homemade tunics, barefoot trolls and trolls with cutesy little shoesies.
One day, at least ten years after first mentioning to my mother about the trolls, I was hard at work at a computer company. I worked in customer relations and as usual, it was a very stressful day. I had received numerous phone calls from people complaining, “Why is my computer late?” “Why is my computer early--I don’t have the check ready!” “Why isn’t my monitor working?” “Why did I get charged so much for shipping?”
Late that afternoon the mail courier rolled her mail basket to my desk and handed me a package. I assumed it would be some defective RAM chip that someone was sending back. No, no, no.
The package contained two very tiny, about 1 inch tall, Lucite trolls, one with bright yellow hair, and another with red hair. My co-workers gathered round as I lovingly told them the story of my mother and the mysteriously appearing trolls. I proudly stuck them on top my computer monitor with scotch tape, a reminder of a mother’s love in the midst of angry customer complaints.
Mom has since passed on, but the trolls haven’t. I received a pink three foot stuffed clown troll from my sister Kelli, some cute troll wrapping paper from my cousin Jill, Halloween and Easter trolls from my sister Paula, and this cute little angel from one of my students last Christmas.
I forgot to tell my mom that I really like diamonds too.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I hope all of you are having a good day with family and friends.
To those of you who are alone this day, I hope you are able to take some time to do the things that YOU want to do. Read a good book, go to a movie, get some well-deserved sleep, write a letter (not an email--a real letter,) get some Calgon, some candles and soak in the tub, or eat that pint of Ben and Jerry's all by yourself!
We're just hanging out doing the soup and sandwich thing, with lots and lots of pie.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
If I walk into my classroom and say, “Whose granola bar wrapper is this on the floor?” at least five children will stop what they are doing, drop to the floor, and look for that pesky wrapper. One will retrieve it and toss it in the wastebasket. They all will return to their seats and get back to work without another word.
I could later pull any one of them aside and have the following conversation:
Me: Thank you for picking up the wrapper. Was it yours?
Fifth Grader: No, I don’t know who left it there.
Me: Then why did you pick it up?
Fifth Grader: Because I am the one responsible for picking it up.
No blaming. No accusing. No conjecturing as to the perpetrator.
I have Kitty to thank.
Last year, when this same group of kids began fourth grade, I had the good fortune of being their new teacher. On the first day of school I told them the story of Kitty and how her story changed my life.
Kitty Genovese was walking to her apartment about 3:15 a.m. on March 13, 1964. A man followed her, stabbed her twice, then ran away. Kitty stumbled, attempting to get to her home. The man came back ten minutes later and continued to stab her, then assaulted and robbed her. The time from the beginning of the first attack to the end of the last was about 30 minutes. There were witnesses.
On March 27, 1964, The New York Times reported “Thirty-eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.”
I first heard Kitty’s story as a college psychology student. Why did thirty-eight people look out of their apartment windows, watch this woman die, and fail to call the police?
Psychologists attribute it to what they call “the bystander syndrome.” People assume “surely by now someone else has called the police.” But no one has.
Years later, they discovered that perhaps it was no one’s fault after all. Not one person had the ability to see the whole attack from start to finish, so they could not have really known what was going on. Perhaps they should be absolved from their failure to call the police.
Kitty’s story affected me so greatly that it led to my personal mantra: It’s My Job.
I vowed from that time to always be the one responsible for taking care of a situation that needs it. There is no need for me to wonder if someone else has already called the police. I know it’s my job to make that call.
If I’m at the grocery store and I see wet produce in the aisle, lying in wait for a lawsuit-happy customer, I take care of it. I already assigned myself that job. There’s no wondering.
Cow in the middle of a curvy road? I’ve already successfully dodged it? Not to worry. I’ve already called the Sheriff’s Department so that you don’t hit it when you come around the bend.
Thanks to Kitty, my students are well trained. No longer are they the neophyte fourth graders who would respond thus:
Me: Who dropped a yogurt lid upside down on the carpet?
Voices at once: Danielle had that kind of yogurt. No, it was Jeremiah. P.J. knocked it off her desk though! No, I didn’t! No, it was not Danielle; that was Hannah’s yogurt.
Me: But who is responsible for cleaning it up?
Voices: Danielle! P.J.? No way! It should be Jeremiah, right?
Me: Who was responsible for calling the police when Kitty died?
Suddenly the light would come on and one of them would say, “Oh yeah! I am the one responsible!
Now they are experienced fifth graders who usually don’t wait for my questions. They see something on the floor, they pick it up. Someone has fallen down, they are right there with an outstretched arm.
We’ve come a long way, Kitty.
Monday, November 24, 2008
1. The toilet paper always runs out on me. It doesn’t matter where I am—home, church, school, your house—it will wait to run out until I get there. In fact, I’ve made friends that way. Don’t like to change the toilet paper roll? Just invite me over when you see the roll is getting low, pump me with some liquid refreshments, and ta-dah! Your toilet paper roll will always have less than enough paper for me to finish my job, forcing me to change the roll for you!
2. I cry at Riverdance.
3. I’m a Lost addict. Favorite character: Ben. Creepy, huh?
4. Iowa IS Heaven.
5. I think a lot about religion. I’m on my third one. The coolest thing is when I learn something I never knew before, like finding out that the Book of Isaiah is full of literary styles such as chiasm and parallelism. Look it up; I’m not kidding!
6. Teaching is a fun profession, even when you don’t get paid. I teach nine fifth graders at a home school co-op. And just so ya know, I am NOT smarter than a fifth grader.
7. In my dream life, I am a tornado chaser.
8. I hate shopping, yet I am a woman.
9. Favorite meal: Tomatoes, fresh from the garden. Corn on the cob (Must be Iowa corn and not that fake GMO substitute at Walmart.) Peppermint Iced Tea. Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mint Caramel Swirl ice cream served in a trough.
10. I love my family. It’s very extended. I am a real mom and a real grandma. But, I have people who call me Grandma, when I’m not really related, people who call me Aunt Randi when I’m not, and a couple of kids who call me Mama when I ain’t their mama.
11. I am a pen fanatic. Gel pens, Sharpies, Pentel, Expo markers, calligraphy pens, neon highlighters—I love them all! My ex-boss gave me a Palm Pilot once and I forsook it because I’d rather make different colored entries in my Franklin.
There you have it. Be forewarned.
Since I don't know if she would appreciate having her name plastered all over the Internet, and because some people who know her might just say "Her? She's about as funny as a morgue," I will resort to calling my friend Gut Laugh Girl for the purposes of this blog.
Gut Laugh Girl, my kindred spirit soul sistah, loved to make up words. She also appreciated a fine verbal concoction when made by someone else. My absolute favorite phrase that she introduced to me was Foreign Quang. Kinda rolls off the tongue, huh? Foreign Quang. Not a delight that she invented, but one that she learned from someone else who learned from someone else. My goal? To lovingly hand Foreign Quang to you, just as she passed it to me.
Ever have to scrape that goopy pile of food remnants from the inside of the kitchen sink drainer? Foreign Quang. Ever notice you were trailing something from your shoe, and upon closer investigation realized that you had stepped in gum, but the gum had attracted all sorts of kibbles and bits that were now lodged in the tread of your shoe? Foreign Quang. Ever try to scrape some dried Foreign Quang off of a wall, only to discover that your son and his nose were too lazy to look for a tissue?
Quick usage sample: "Oh Heavens, Gertrude! You must have sat in some Foreign Quang on that park bench. It's all over the back of your skirt."
Or another: "Would you please give the dog a bath? He has some sort of Foreign Quang matted in his fur."
In the virtual world of blahhh-ging, we spew forth from our minds our own Foreign Quang, in written form; odd bits and pieces of our lives, scraped off of a wall or obtained from a park bench. We bloggers hope these pieces, over time, give our readers a feeling of normality in an insane world. A feeling of "Wow! I thought I was the only one who felt that way." A connection. A bond. A sisterhood. Or if you're a guy, a bro-hood.
We hope you kick off your shoes, cozy up to the keyboard, and hang out for a while.