I’ve Done It Again. Carry On.

Being married to someone you met in adulthood inevitably results in funny conversations. What may have seemed completely reasonable to one spouse can strike the other as anything ranging from quirky to downright batshit crazy. Maybe your husband grew up in a different culture or religion, or maybe your wife was raised in a different country. Maybe your parents didn’t use dryer sheets. Maybe his parents were all about margarine. These things come up when you bring two people together and start a new family.

With my husband and I, typically some story from his youth strikes me as quirky, whereas my strolls down memory lane leave him bug-eyed and yes, declaring, wow, that is batshit crazy.

You’d hardly know from looking at me today, all put together and fabulous, that I had an….unconventional start. (Yes, I am being sarcastic. I am not put together and fabulous, although one of these days, I tell you, I’ll show the WORLD! just not today) Actually, sarcasm aside, we are about as normal as one gets anymore. Extended family who enjoy one another’s company, get together for holidays, that sort of boredom, as we do. So I understand my sweet hubs’ reactions.

And it’s not as though I tricked him into marrying me, thinking I was one thing (normal) when in actuality I was quite another. (trainwreck) It’s just that, when your experiences are your experiences, you tend to just think of them as what happened, not as an outsider might.

Which is how we landed on this conversation the other night, sparked by the craziness of the VanillaISIS situation in Oregon.

(I’m also partial to Bubba Haram, for what it’s worth. Alas, I digress.)

So the conversation goes something like this:

husband: These people are nuts! Like tinfoil hat crazy!

me: Yeah. They remind me of this family I knew, though. I wonder if they ever got social security numbers.

husband: (blink blink) Pardon me?

me: Social Security numbers. Their parents didn’t let them have them because they didn’t want the government to know they existed. They lived not too far from you growing up, actually. Although probably you wouldn’t have known them. They didn’t go to school, obviously. But I remember them talking about eating squirrels they killed on their land and how they would totally survive anything. They wore a lot of camo, come to think of it. Weird. I wonder how they got a phone at their house? I remember they didn’t believe in borrowing money. Actually, how’d they have a house? I never thought about this stuff when I was a kid.

husband: (eyes about to fall out of his head)

me: (nervous laughter) You didn’t know anyone like that, eh? 

husband: WTF?!

me: Right. I’ve done it again. Carry on.

So yes. When I was around 15 or so, I met a few, shall we say, unique folks. And my parents, being of the more free-range variety, and trusting that I was up to only good, never really worried about me. And I, being of the sheltered variety, didn’t realize just how whacked these friends were. To be fair, this was pre-google.

Some days, I think, I should write more of this down. Other days, I think no one would believe me. But suffice it to say, I have learned little by little that no, most people weren’t buds with anti-government conspiracists.

Then again, SOMEONE wrote Ron Swanson.

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This Is the Last Day of Our Acquaintance

My thirties are coming to a close, and it feels remarkably unremarkable.

I imagine I’ll wake up tomorrow, and nothing will have changed aside from the fact that I will have managed to have survived into another decade. Which is pretty swell, really. Certainly beats the alternative, as they say.

In anticipation of this birthday, I compiled a brief set of goals to meet ahead of time. Some more introspective than others, certainly, and while I accomplished several, including my renewed dedication to writing, others fell by the wayside, such as finding a decent lipstick shade.

And while I know that turning forty is a big freaking deal, I think what is stuck in my brain is how on earth I’m going to beat the awesomeness that was my thirties.

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In my thirties, I became a mother. First, to my sweet baby girl who is creeping up on 10 herself, and then to three more tiny people, one boy and two more girls, who are happy and healthy and loved.

In my thirties,my husband and I bought our first home. Sure, it’s tiny, sure, it needs a metric tonne of work, but it is ours. And that is amazing. It’s terribly adult of us, don’t you think?

In my thirties, I realized a ridiculous amount about myself. I finally got comfortable in this mortal coil of mine. Through four pregnancies, I realized how much my body could withstand and was amazed by that. I stopped being paralyzed by self-consciousness. I learned how to recognize when the anxiety was talking and what tools were needed to get her to kindly eff off. I learned that whatever unkind word popped into my head didn’t necessarily need to pass my lips, no matter how justifiable my emotions may or may not be.

In my thirties, I learned my own opinions, separately from my family and friends  – while some remained the same, not all did.

I don’t suspect I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling any differently. And I would venture to guess that as far as decades go, my thirties were a lot busier than the forties are slated to be. But I have a sneaking suspicion that in ten years’ time, a new list, albeit shorter, will be composed.

Perhaps by fifty I’ll find that elusive red lipstick.

Every Little Ornament Counts

Christmas, 1984. My family was living on base in West Germany, all eight (EIGHT!) of us shoved in a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. We were on the top floor of three, one of six apartments per stairwell, two stairwells per building. Built in World War II, the architecture was best described as, “early oppressive Stalinist utilitarian.”

Living conditions were cramped, but the youngest three of us were small and therefore not quite as affected. We had the first bedroom when you entered the apartment, a roomy retreat with a set of bunks and my single bed. There was a door into my parents’ room from ours, and as we lived on a guarded and fenced-in base with bars on the window, they probably didn’t feel at all worried that we were the first room accessible from the front door. They wouldn’t have expected any of us to escape, anyway, as we were just not that type of children.

We were, however, the type of children who loved Christmas. And that first winter overseas, we were excited to open up the boxes of ornaments we’d lugged over the Atlantic and make the apartment as close to home as possible. That Friday night, we’d secured a tree from the only lot on base, and after getting it situated in the corner of our crowded living room, had only managed a few decorations before it was time to go to bed. The rest would have to wait until morning.

Around six A.M., the sun was up and so was my brother, Joe. While his twin snored away, his six year-old self was unable to sleep and so he shook me awake. He had a plan: we would tiptoe out to the tree and finish decorating it before anyone else woke up. They would be so excited to see a fully decorated tree!

It was a lovely plan. Truly. We had the best of intentions. We envisioned all of the thanks and admiration we would inevitably receive from our parents and siblings.

But we were two of the shortest kids you’d ever seen. And when two tiny people kneel down, they can only reach their tiny arms so far onto a tree.

And when two tiny people are overloaded on Christmas joy, they overpopulate a very concentrated section of tree branches with every ornament their tiny arms can hang.

Which is right around the time that two tiny people are pinned under a falling tree.

I distinctly remember the clinking and clanking and yes, sadly, some shattering, as the ornaments went every which way, along with our cat who had been silently judging us from her perch on the back of the sofa. My parents shot out of their room and while I’m sure they were ready to murder us, the sight of us trapped under the pine tree more than likely made them unable to stop laughing. As everyone scurried to free us and salvage the ornaments that hadn’t broken, my dad realized that the tree water had poured all over the floor and seemed to be leaking through to the apartment below us. As my mom rushed to warn our downstairs neighbors, the far more refined Bradleys with their perfect two children and their lovely sportscar, I’m sure she momentarily regretted having a big family.

I usually remember the times I was punished, and they were many. But I don’t remember getting in any trouble for this particular disaster. I do believe, however, that was the last Christmas the tree trimming was put off until morning.

fallen tree

 

Happy Birthday, Baby Brothers!

I have exactly two memories of my biological mother: one is of listening to her bicker with my dad about needing to stop at the drugstore for pantyhose, presumably having run the ones she was wearing. The other, attempting to sit on her lap and not being able to, since she was a tiny woman and pregnant with my twin brothers.

There should be no surprise that in spite of our 3-year age gap, these two are part of my earliest memory. They have always left quite an impression!

My brothers are two of the most unique people one could ever meet – and while they look so much alike that no one ever believes they are fraternal, they are two very distinct people. That’s not to say they aren’t a lot alike, however.

When we were younger, they wowed the grownups with their abilities. Reading before three. Math problems, too. They knew all the states and their capitals. They read maps better than my mom. To this day, they both can tell you not just who won a Super Bowl of any given year, but they can tell you the scores of any game, the breakdown of points by quarter, which player scored which points, and as an added bonus, what happened in our own lives on that day. I am not even kidding. I’ve witnessed arguments between them concerning which shirt they were wearing during a game that took place in 1985.

I shall spare them the extended memory list, as it is their birthday and I don’t wish to embarrass them, but while they may exist as children in my memory, they are now grown men: each with  beautiful wives whom I not only approve of but love like sisters. Both now fathers. Both not only smarter than anyone I’ve ever known, but also wise.

Happy birthday, Adam and Joe. I love you.

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I Made it, I Did

Today is the last day of the #write31days challenge. If anyone is reading this and read all of my posts, you know far too much about my family and my life. My apologies.

If you had any favorite stories, please let me know!

Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I’ve got about 1/3 of a novel to complete and edit in that time.

I loved using this writing challenge as practice for next month, and I’m excited to get started tomorrow. I will probably pop in and share tidbits, if that’s kosher.

Hope you all have a wonderful Halloween – kindly save me any Take 5 bars you might come across!

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That Time the Hubs Was a Rockstar

As most of you know, my fantastic husband is a musician, which is indirectly how we met. His band, Juniper Lane, often hung out at an open mic night where I ended up singing a few times. It was there that we first became friends.

Several years and two children later, Juniper Lane won a contest to be among a few finalists from which Coldplay would choose an opening act for their Verizon Center show.

YES. Coldplay. Chris Martin. Yellow. The Scientist. Commence the squeeing.

I had a six-month old at the time of the show, and he’d really never been left for more than a few hours, but come ON, my husband would be opening for Coldplay, so I packed my breast pump in the cutest bag I had, piled on the black eyeliner, and we all headed downtown for one of the most surreal nights of our lives.

The first funny happened when we got there. Apparently, when you tell the security guard you need to get in because you’re playing tonight, and you literally have your instrument swung over your shoulder, they are suspect. And when you’re so flipping excited that you are opening for one of your musical idols that you can’t wipe the smile off your face and loudly declare, “I AM OPENING FOR COLDPLAY WHICH WAY TO THE DRESSING ROOM!” they may or may not consider calling for back up.

But we eventually proved ourselves truthful and headed in.

There was a lot of waiting around, a lot of wide-eyed wonder, a soundcheck, and some visiting with Coldplay’s drummer who is a lovely man who tolerated all of our star-struckedness and even signed all the things for us. I wasn’t allowed to tag along to the official food area, but hubs did eat dinner at a table next to the band, which is kind of fun as well.

Some other famous people were milling about backstage, like the Foo Fighters drummer and Kate Bosworth, I think. I say I think, because I wasn’t the one who spotted them, having spent a solid amount of my time in the back of the dressing rooms, pumping. But I guess that is what happens backstage at giant rock shows? Famous people just come walk around?

When my husband’s band played, well, it was ridiculous. I don’t think my wordy little self has any words to capture the metric tonne of pride one experiences when you see the person you love getting to live out a dream. It’s nothing short of amazing. I think it’s probably better than having your own dream come true, if I’m being honest.

Although it didn’t catapult the hubs and his bandmates to instant fame and fortune like it should have, it was an amazing celebration of all they had worked toward for so many years. And in addition to having that amazing experience, all of our children will certainly drag this story out to impress their friends for years to come.

And when your kids think you’re cool, that may be more valuable than any record deal. Close, anyway.

just my hubs, rockstar extraordinaire.
just my hubs, opening for Coldplay. as one does.

Great Great-Uncle Gigs

Although he died decades before I was born, Uncle Gigs is a legend in our family. My dad thinks his real name was Owen, but regardless, Uncle “Gigs” Gallagher was my grandmother’s uncle, brother to my great-grandmother Rose Greenhalgh, nee Gallagher.

When my grandmother and grandfather married, they did what was the usual for the time and moved in with relatives. Several years passed and a couple of their children were born before they were able to afford their own rental, and when they could afford it, the understanding was that they would now become a safe landing for poorer relatives.

Gigs was one such relative. A house painter by trade, he often took long sabbaticals from his job to attend to his first love: drinking. He was without a permanent residence, and would also on occasion cause a public disturbance so he would have a warm place to sleep at night. In the county jail. But the warden caught on to Gigs’ strategy, and would make him spend the day painting his own house in order to “earn his keep” and sleep in the cell.

And so it was that Gigs ended up doing long stints in my grandmother’s basement. His reasons for being relegated to the basement were two-fold: one, there was limited space upstairs, mostly occupied by small children who shouldn’t be disturbed by a stumbly drunk man, and second of all, because Gigs wasn’t exactly in complete control of his bladder after a few beverages. This led to some awkward encounters later on when my aunts were of dating age. There were a few times where their dates had arrived to pick them up and were treated to a display of Gigs’ half-bare backside as he ascended the steps to actually make it to the bathroom. Apparently, Gigs always managed to button just the one side of his union suit, never both, never neither. Always one cheek left embracing the breeze.

At some point, Gigs met a woman who swore he had married her. Gigs denied any wedding, but given his penchant for moonshine-induced holes in his memory, no one really knows who was in the right. But she had followed him back to my grandparents’ house, and he ran ahead of her, instructing all of the children to keep her out. She managed to barrel past everyone, however, and was chasing him around the dining room table for a bit before giving up.

Gigs wasn’t living with my dad’s family when he died, but his funeral was well attended by a myriad of people from many walks of life. Rest in peace, great great-uncle Gigs. You’re a legend.

This is Great-Grandma Rose. Gigs was her brother. I wonder if he looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, too.
This is Great-Grandma Rose. Gigs was her brother. I wonder if he looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, too.

The Birth of a Writer

Today was madness. It was a good madness, but madness all the same. I had three magazines post a piece of mine online, and one that was somewhat vulnerable, controversial, and miraculously well-received.

Phew!

I wish I could tell you about when I first started writing. If I think on it long enough, I bet I could, and I shall try, but it’s 7:38 and I need to do a blog post for my Write 31 days challenge, so instead I’ll be telling you the hilarious tale of my sister’s first brilliant written story.

In the 2nd grade, my quiet little mouse of a sister was asked along with the rest of her class to think of the funniest possible story and write it down. She took the assignment to heart, went home with a stack of that manila-colored triple-lined paper, and drafted what she considered to be the most hilarious story her seven year-old self could muster.

I suspect the commercials for the local musical theater may have contributed to her inspiration. They were playing ads for the upcoming production of Victor/Victoria.

The story was a simple one: a man liked to wear dresses. He met a woman who liked to wear suits. This was a perfect match! They fell in love and got married. The End.

Now, I realize this hardly sounds scandalous. But in 1976 or so, it apparently sent waves through Crofton Woods. The teacher brought it to the counselor who brought it to the principal who called my mother and requested she come in for a conference immediately.

When my mother arrived at school, she sat down across from the panel of three experts. The principal slid the story across the desk to her with a dour look on her face. My mother was understandably concerned about what the paper said. Were there curse words? Gruesome violent details? Was someone hurting my sister and she had confessed it on this page? The looks on the faces of the school officials betrayed their own concerns too readily.

Then my mother read the story. And commenced hysterical laughter.

When she realized that the teacher, counselor, and principal didn’t find the story the least bit funny, she caught herself and tried to recapture her concern. Which is when the counselor began a particularly bizarre kind of questioning, attempting to determine just how my sister had found her inspiration for this clearly disturbed tale.

“Does your husband….enjoy wearing women’s clothing?” the counselor ventured.

My mother’s laughter resumed. “Oh goodness, you’re serious, aren’t you?” she finally managed.

At that point, my mother remarked that to a 7 year-old, this was merely the funniest thing she could think of, that no, my father was not into trying on her pantyhose, but thanks for asking, and that she also found it to be a delightful little tale and my goodness did they really have her find a sitter for this nonsense.

I am nearly certain there was a mark in the old family file from that point on. But it does remain my favorite “birth of a writer” story.

julie andrews was smoldering
Julie Andrews was positively fierce.

Bringing a Boy Home

I have no idea what I was thinking, I really don’t. Perhaps it was my feeble attempt at ripping the bandage off all at once, or maybe I never stopped to consider the potential for disaster. After all, I’m the girl who still gets in the pool one excruciating inch at a time, even though I know, I KNOW, that diving in is a far better, far less traumatic, plan.

So when I brought my lovely WASPy boyfriend of a year home to “meet the parents,” why I chose to do so at an extended family gathering is beyond me. In retrospect, the fact that he didn’t ditch me and run screaming back across the Potomac should have eliminated any doubt I had regarding his investment in our relationship. The man was clearly all in.

When you grow up in a large family, the noise expectation at parties is different. When twenty-some people are all chatting at once, there’s really no quiet possible. I remember my husband trying to escape to the living room for a moment, only to be dragged back by the barking orders of my elderly aunt, requesting him to “Get you ass in here.” She really just wanted to know more about him, but I could tell my amusement wasn’t helping matters.

And later when we tried to take a break by offering to walk my four year-old nephew to the park, the little guy bristled at his intrusion and required a talking to before acquiescing. That was the moment the sarcastic, “Ready, Freddy?” phrase was born in our home. It seems four year-olds aren’t keen on sharing their aunties.

It took another year and a half before my husband introduced me to his parents.

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I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire

I woke up this morning to the death stare of a 10-month old. My husband scooped her up, changed her, and let me rest for a few more minutes as I’d gotten up about half a dozen times to feed the little monster. It was too loud to sleep any longer, what with the other three greeblies fighting over the last two frozen waffles, so I tossed on my Nutella-stained Star Wars sweatshirt and dragged myself downstairs in search of coffee. The steps dropped me into the living room, where my #3 greeted me enthusiastically with, “Mama! Now we’re all here, a family!” She was draped over my husband’s lap, the little monster snuggled in his arms, and the other two played on the floor nearby.

I patted my husband’s head and wished him a happy anniversary. At first, he was puzzled, and said, “Wait, today? I thought that was tomorrow?” and I wasn’t the slightest bit annoyed. How could I be? Today’s schedule included two soccer games, a play rehearsal, a costume meeting, Girl Scout cookie pick-up, buying and delivering ten bags of ice for tonight’s Halloween party at the school, and of course, wrangling them all for said party which we’ll attend together instead of getting a warm meal in a quiet restaurant with cloth napkins.

When we were the well-rested, fresh-faced twenty-somethings in our wedding photo, what I just described would have made us cry. More than likely it would have sent us running in opposite directions. We weren’t going to be those people. When vacationing with my family, we’d celebrate our relative freedom as tiny children ran around like miniature tyrants. This would not be our fate, no sir.

In a couple of days, we’ll escape for 24 hours. While we’ll have the wee one along due to feeding requirements, it will be a well-deserved and long-awaited break from the chaos of our daily lives. It’s funny how it took twelve years for us to get to this place – most of the time it seems like the blink of an eye, but I am glad it took that long to work up to this. The silly boy and girl who registered for three different types of wine glasses and a game table were not cut out for a day like today.

Happy Anniversary, Babe.
Happy Anniversary. We’re every bit as crazy today.