Let them eat Cake!

image It’s June in Alabama–about 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. It’s already pretty hot. School is out for the summer and my mom has told me to get out of the house and not come back till lunch, which will probably be something disgusting like tomatoes and rice, with hot dogs cut up inside. Ugh! Liver is worse though, so I won’t complain.

I turned eight this year. Our neighborhood is big, but it’s quiet. Plus, I know every nook and cranny of every street and drainage ditch within a square mile, so nobody really worries about me being outside on my own. I’m riding my reconditioned BMX knock-off bike with the yellow knobby tires around the neighborhood in hopes that one of my friends, or even one of the kids that I don’t really consider my friend, will notice me and come out and play.

Dangling from my right handlebar is my portable transistor radio. The sound is crap, but it’s small and it’ll run forever on a 9V battery. I have the “American Top 40” on with Casey Casem, and Kim Carnes is scratching out “Betty Davis Eyes,” which is number two on the charts right now. Truth be told, I kinda have the hots for Kim, even though I don’t know what she looks like. Later, I’d also have a crush on Kathleen Turner, which probably means that I have a thing for women who smoke, but I don’t really think like that yet. Course…my best friend’s sister is pretty hot and she doesn’t smoke. Her name is Shea. She smells really good. My mom won’t let me go in their house when I’m playing with her brother Chad, but I do anyway and just don’t tell her. Sometimes I get to see Shea and she says Hi to me. I don’t really know what to say around her though. She makes me nervous. Yet another recurring theme throughout my life.

It’s quiet around the house these days. My brother is gone. He’s done some pretty terrible things and though I’m not completely clear on either his motives, or where he’s gone as a result, I know it’s not good. Mom and dad won’t talk about it and if anyone else brings it up, any future conversation is quickly squelched with an almost insignificant shake of the head. They don’t think I notice, but I do. Mom especially thinks I don’t notice a lot of things. For instance, I know money is really tight right now. A month ago, for my birthday, all I got was a baseball bat and a coloring book. A COLORING book. How old do I look? But, I know money is tight with dad having to work contract jobs so I didn’t say anything. I pretended like it was a great birthday. But it wasn’t. It sucked.

I kind of miss Robert–or Bobby as some in the family call him. He likes “Robert” so that’s what I call him. He’s an OK brother I guess. I mean, he’s kinda mean to me and stuff, but he’s also pretty cool. Like, when we play boxing with the yellow and orange inflatable gloves, he lets me really wail on him. He always beats me at games though and I think he cheats but I can never prove it. I also think he steals all my Halloween candy no matter how well I hide it. This year, I pulled the top off my drum and hid the candy in there, but it’s still disappearing–just like my wallet and all my money. I really gotta get better at not losing things.

But even if he were here, he’d probably be off doing something else, so I’d probably still be riding my bike around. Today is his birthday. I wonder if he’ll get any presents wherever he is? I doubt it. Do you get presents at those camps for bad teenagers? Maybe he’ll get some ice cream or something.

What? “Endless Love” is number one? That’s such a crap-song! Mom likes it, but I don’t get it.

Hey look! There’s Michael and Steven. They aren’t my favorite kids to play with. One time, one of them pooped in his pants and then reached in and threw some at me. He missed. But they do have some really cool Star Wars toys. I guess they’ll do. Later!

Oh, Happy Birthday Robert–wherever you are.

Send out the masses!

fundraising As surely as winter follows fall, there’s one thing that always quickly follows the start of the school year–no, not new television shows–fundraisers!

It’s that time again; time for all the little chillun to start canvassing the neighborhoods with their glossy brochures hawking pretty wrapping paper, or delicious chocolates–all in the hopes of winning some trinket for their efforts.

Do you remember this when you were a kid? Boy I do. I actually LOVED fundraisers, and I wasn’t one of these kids who forgot to do it and then begged his parents to make up the difference. No, I was quite the little peddler, which is funny considering how anti-new-social I am as a grup (bonus points if you know from whence the term “grup” comes from. And if you can’t figure it out, go here).

Come, walk with me…

I remember sitting in the school gymnasium on the floor (this was before my knees and back made floor sitting obscenely painful) listening to the pitch-man explain the fundraiser, while in the background stood a colorful display of all the wonderful prizes we could win by selling a certain amount of product. The basketballs and Frisbees® sitting alongside wonderful dragon kites and candy, all served to feed the great selling machine that is cute little kids–hordes of them even!

Then, I’d run home and show my mom what I had to sell, almost bursting with excitement to get out there and start selling. I had no idea then that, more than likely, she was rolling her eyes even as I foamed at the mouth and fairly buzzed with pent up excitement!

But I knew my customers! I knew who would buy, and who would not. I knew who would casually look at the brochures, and then come up with an excuse about why they couldn’t buy today. For these people, I was prepared, “Would you like me to come back tomorrow perhaps?”

There was the nice lady with the white Lincoln Town Car, back when they used to have the wheels on the trunk. She was so nice and always bought something. Sometimes,  I would head straight to her house knowing she would get me started right; but other times, I’d wait and hit her last so that I could end my patrol on a high note.

There was also the house near the opposite end of the neighborhood from me who one year put up a sign on his door that said, “No soliciting.” Being only 8, I had no idea what that meant, but figured anything that started with the word “No” probably indicated that he didn’t want to talk to people, so I started skipping his house. It was OK, he wasn’t much of a buyer anyway.

But then I remember the disappointment when, after all my work and after miraculously getting all the money to the school (without my brother stealing it…yeah it happened a couple of times), it was only to find out that all I qualified for was an oversized lollipop. But it didn’t matter. That was one oversized lollipop that my parents would never buy me, so I had earned every lick!

Yeah, I remember those days and so I try and be sympathetic to the kids in my neighborhood. Their wares are usually overpriced and crap, but they’re trying and I give them points for that. But knowing how little of that money is actually going to the school, I’d almost rather they came to me with a list of improvements the school wants to make, and ask me to donate money to my favorite choice.

Course…that would rob them of the same memories that I treasure, and that’s pretty important too.

I therefore proclaim: Children of Wildwood Springs—Bring me your wrapping paper; your chocolates; your overpriced tins of stale caramel corn! I’ll buy something from you. Just promise me you’ll pay forward the favor when its your doorbell ringing!

Big Hair, Leg Warmers and a perfect family life. too good to be true?

My childhood was good, don’t get me wrong. I mean, it wasn’t Huxtable-good, but it was alright. The other day I was thinking about how television has changed since we of the “MTV Generation” were kids, and how big a part of my life TV was when I was growing up.  Do you remember it? Do you remember all of those popular family shows that we all used to watch and how those shows portrayed family life?

Family ties For example, one of my favorite shows growing up was Family Ties. Who could forget Alex and Mallory and whatever those other kids’ names were. I think they were the original dual-income family. The mom was some kind of business woman, as was the dad. Did we ever find out what they did for a living? Well, whatever it was, they made enough money to keep the kids in good clothes and to keep whatever out-of-town family member happened to drop by the house in spending cash until they left, usually after making a mess of home life.

Cosby show The Huxtables were a favorite too. I think my parents liked the Cosby Show because it had actors from their own era, but I liked the show because they were well-off (AKA rich!)…and lived like it! Isn’t it funny how, 20 years ago we didn’t even think about race when we were watching that show? Seems like we’ve gone backwards a bit since then doesn’t it?

Growing pains Who am I missing? Oh, man…Growing Pains! How I could I forget Growing Pains? Now this was the ultimate wasn’t it? Dad was a psychiatrist; mom was a…I don’t know what mom did, but she was hot! They lived in a nice ranch house with a basketball goal in the back. It was perfect.

Now, I knew in my heart that television wasn’t real life; but wasn’t there just a little part of all of us that thought that somewhere, life must be like that? And isn’t that view of family life what we all grew up with in our head?

So is it any surprise to us that we’re often dissatisfied with parenting? For certain, I never saw the Keatons getting up several times a night to comfort an inconsolable baby. Or, I don’t remember the Seavers sitting around the kitchen table stressing over whether or not they could afford to get rid of the 10-year old family car and get a new one.

Instead, according to our 80s television hero’s, life was supposed to be something like this:

  • Everyone suddenly shows up downstairs in the kitchen fully dressed and ready for breakfast
  • Dad sits at the table with a steaming mug of coffee in his hand and a newspaper in the other
  • Mom busily–yet expeditiously–serves everyone a hearty breakfast, while herself looking perfectly made up and coiffed and ready for her busy day as a working mom
  • Maybe dad works from home and while he does so, mom often pops in and out of the house and they have engaging, meaningful conversations about the family, work and life in general–all the while harmlessly flirting with one another.
  • Whatever dad did for a living, he had a LOT of free time
  • The kids would come home in the afternoon and fix themselves something to eat and disappear…off to do whatever they had to do.
  • Homework miraculously got done, or barring that, if one of those rascally kids got a “D” on their report card, they were mildly admonished while grinning winningly, knowing the parents would never follow through with any kind of lasting punishment.
  • At night, dinner was a family affair. Everyone sat down and ate whatever it was that magically appeared on the table. I don’t think anyone ever ate take-out and they certainly never went out to eat. Beef was good for you!
  • And I don’t think anyone ever went to bed, or if they did, it was after the show went off.
  • Vacations were European affairs, or at the very least, uber-exciting trips cross-country where everyone got along and traffic never hampered the schedule
  • Oh, and nothing ever, ever broke in the house.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Too bad it’s about as far from real-life as you can get. Maybe that’s why Roseanne was such a big hit..it was bawdy and rough, but it was a heck of a lot more like MY childhood than anything Silver Spoons ever televised.

I wonder what my kids are going to glom onto growing up? Right now, I can’t think of any television shows that portrays an “ideal” family life. Maybe that’s a good thing though. Maybe it will help them create their own ideal, and in turn maybe that will help me to remain cognizant of the fact that my actions are the only thing countering the cultural norms today that I don’t agree with.

That’s a tall order.

Behind every memory…is a Coffee Mug?

If there’s an adult male in your house over the age of 30, it’s a pretty good bet that if Gordon Elliott and the cast of “Doorknock Dinners” were to suddenly show up at your house and go scrounging through your pantry, they’d find a number of unmatched coffee mugs, complete with various pictures, logos, and catch-phrases.

I thought about this as I was emptying the dishwasher and trying to find a place for some of our mugs the other day. Now, CareerMom is an avowed packrat and I’m generally a “tosser” (and not in a British kinda way). I don’t normally get sentimental over knick-knacks so its easy for me to just throw things out.

Knowing this, I was taken aback to discover that, as I was moving the mugs around and trying to decide which ones to keep and which ones to toss out, that more than a few held very strong sentimental value. Like markers in my life, each of them pointed at some very good, or notsogood, time in my life and I was hesitant to get rid of them.

If you’re interested:

IMG_2320I got this mug at the Georgia Renaissance Festival back in 2000. CareerMom and I had just gotten married the fall prior and I had quit a very lucrative contract job (making the same money 9 years ago that I’m making now) so I could move back to Atlanta and get married. I remember that we really didn’t have much spending cash, but I really wanted one of these cool mugs (filled at the time of purchase, with beer) because it was a typically steamy June day and because I really liked the mug. So, CareerMom bought it for me and I’ve treasured it ever since.

IMG_2321I grew up in Alabama, and though I wasn’t lucky enough to go to the U. of Alabama, I will forever be a fan! CareerMom got her B.A. at U. of Texas and did her graduate studies at Georgia Tech. And though we don’t actually use these cups much, they are as much a part of our lives as anything else. I just can’t seem to part with them.


IMG_2322Much like my career, this mug symbolizes the hayday of my single life. I was young, I took contract jobs where I often got to do very fun and different things. One time, I worked for a railroad company planning a large telecommunications rollout. Part of my job was to help complete some maps. This was in the day before everything was on the Internet, so I was poring over what few maps were available via Mapquest, plus some maps we had on a program on disk, trying to figure out where the railroad tracks went across the U.S. The logo on this mug has long since worn off, but the underlying color is still there, shiny and bright. I don’t even remember specifically where I got it; only that it meant something special at the time. Still does really…

IMG_2325…the hell did this come from? It looks like something CareerMom got in a crappy “Thank You” basket at at a baby shower.
It’s outta here!

IMG_2324CareerMom brought this mug, along with a set of platters and such when we got married. I think I’ve seen a similar set at Target on and off over the years. But we pull these mugs out around the Christmas holidays. They are a beautiful green with a snowy scene on them that reminds me of the “Christmas that could be.” We will probably never have a white Christmas here in Atlanta, but like seeing the first leaves drop and feeling that first bite of cool Canadian air in October, these mugs always lift my spirits a bit.

IMG_2323When MLE was born, I wanted to make something people could keep. So, I took this picture of him, one of the very first,  and had a mug made up and sent it to all of our family members. For very obvious reasons, I can never throw this one out. I thought about this cup this morning as I was eating breakfast and MLE came down and asked to sit in my lap. I really love that little guy!

IMG_2327CareerMom brought this and another mug like it back from San Francisco recently. Not that I’m a fan of San Fran mind you, but the mugs are very interesting. The  scenery is raised on the mug making it a very tactile drinking experience. They also hold a LOT of coffee, which is a boon in the mornings when you’re already making umpteen trips up and down the stairs retrieving various things for the kids while trying to get ready. They seem kind of fragile though, so I suspect I’ll break them before I actually tire of them. Since these are relatively new, I’m not sure yet what the memory of these will be in 5 years. Perhaps thinking back of all the time I was able to spend with my boys by myself as she traveled for work. (*whisper* It’s kinda really fun when she’s gone!)

IMG_2326Ah, our old standby coffee mugs. These are our everyday, eat and drink whatever you want outta them, cups. Fruit, teas, coffee…they take them all. They aren’t flashy, but there’s lots of them and they do the job.

It’s kinda like our marriage really. Maybe they’re not the most exciting all the time, but they’re strong, and there whenever you need ’em.

People collect things specifically for the memories they make, but coffee cups are one of those things that you just sort of pick up along the way, no special reason. But, that’s what makes them special. Like the picture on the wall that, in time, you tend to ignore, pulling one of these gems out of the back of the cabinet and reliving the sentiment behind it is special.