The Hip Happiest Time of the Year

Aaaaah!

I hope you are all as cozy as I am this very moment. What used to be an awful, frantic three months of endurance has evolved into just doing what I love.

You have your fuzzy socks on, right?

I completely ignore Halloween and Christmas and stretch Thanksgiving out into as many weeks as I can get away with. It’s delicious.

I asked a girlfriend yesterday if she was ready for Thanksgiving and she made that face that I put on when words don’t do justice to the injustice of forced festivity.

Who uses the Grinch face for Thanksgiving? Who?

Her family is coming to her house, so she has to clean, cook, rearrange furniture – you know the drill.

She freely admits that they put zero pressure to perform on her lovely shoulders: she does it all by herself.

Now there’s a girl after my own heart!

I know you already saw this video clip on Facebook, but here’s the link anyway, if you want a good laugh.

This used to be me, my kids unanimously agree, although none of us thought it was funny back in the day.

Now I recognize my own special brand of crazy and embrace it.

I don’t do it because I have to. I do it because I like it. And that makes all the difference.

I have been fluffing up my house for two weeks solid and I am in my happy zone, let me tell you, even if it wakes me up at 3am to go over the bottomless list:

  • buy canned green beans; no snow peas
  • burp the vacuum; suck up drifts of dead ants in basement
  • get the giant beanbag up the stairwell; pretend it’s real furniture
  • bulk buy toilet paper and kleenex
  • remove half cord of wood from property and rake area: just because I can see it from my window
  • den curtains: red or ugly nondescript mud brown?
  • wall holes: repair or hide with houseplants?
  • Ecuador: send the kid or no?
  • basketball uniforms cleaned: hot or cold water?
  • blog: write one!! write two! get up right now and write them!!

I know there’s not a soul around who cares if I do a single one of these items.

But.

Remember the couches I was determined to buy?

Boom.

Hubby and I drove in circles until we made a kill two cities away.

I’m not sure why factories feel compelled to manufacture ugly furniture.

Maybe they chat with the clothing industry.

“Make it smoky blue. With fat nail heads. Everywhere. I want to see that sofa gleaming like Vegas when the lights go out. Also, it should render a person unconscious if they flop their head backwards against the cushions.”

I put a tab so large on my credit card (financing is for sissies) I expected it to melt in the swiper machine. This sofa is no small potatoes.

It cost a million dollars.

I plan to count, and when the millionth person sits down on it, we will throw a party, having finally gotten our money’s worth out of the behemoth.

Anyway.

I moved all the house furniture around and then carefully laid out the placement of our sofa sectional on the floor in blue painters tape. I needed a visual.

And we will keep this virtual couch until the real deal arrives and fills the air space.

I keep telling the kids to keep their feet off it. Were they raised in a barn?!

Don’t answer that.

Thanksgiving prep is my perfect alibi.

When else could I be shaking up the house like Yahtzee dice and no one raise an eyebrow?

Build it and they will come.

And they will.

All the family for Thanksgiving and then more family staying through the weekend.

They’re lucky to not be sleeping in virtual beds.

Today I was up to my elbows midwife-ing turkey giblets, because I cook my turkey the day before Thanksgiving. It’s not my original idea (thanks, Flylady) but it’s transformed the day into one with my family and a glass of wine instead of feeling like I’ve been chained to the kitchen (which is not a bad idea per se, but I can do that any day).

No one was hanging over my shoulder rushing me. I enjoyed my tea while setting out pie plates and slicing the golden bird of destiny.

With this tune running through my head:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

With the kids mingle-yelling
And everyone telling you
“What a careeeeer!”
It’s the most tea-chugging time of the year

It’s the hip-happiest season of all…

With those furniture needings
And virtual seatings
When friends come to call
It’s the best praying-est season of all…

There’ll be Facebook for posting
Your in-laws for roasting
And Skyping to friends in the snow (haha!)
There’ll be old Viking stories
And tales of the glories
Of recipes long, long ago…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

There’ll be movie line know-ing
Our pies we’ll be throwing
When loved ones are near
(throw more brandy!)
It’s the best family time of the year!

Angels in the Backseat

Once upon a New Year’s Eve, we got it together on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning and headed across town to church.

You reckon that God is over there waiting for you and you’ll hear some lovely thoughts on scripture and practice loving your neighbor and teach the kids a thing or two about how Jesus loves them so.

And your suburban is in the shop (again) but that’s okay because another member is driving two of your kiddos and you’ve got the other three in the Lexus with you, so you make a cup of tea to go and debate just briefly whether to hassle the carseat into it because the kid is five already and it’s only across town.

So you don’t bother.

Hubby’s driven the exact same route a million times.

So when we entered the intersection and got hit by another car incoming at 3 o’clock and spun and got struck again and then spun into another car who was just minding it’s own business waiting for the light to turn and we all landed smack in the middle of Oz, it made no sense.

None.

Hubby immediately jumped out of the car.

“What happened?” I heard him asking, “I don’t understand…what was that?”

His first thought – and all of the alternatives were just as awful – was that somehow he had run a red light. That someway he had just made a terrible mistake. But he had seen a green light.

Hadn’t he?

It never occurred to anyone that – hey – he had just jumped out of a totaled car.

And walked around trying to understand stuff.

I vividly remember sitting in my seat, wondering the same thing.

I was surrounded by deflated air bags; tea was all over the place.

There was a breath of complete silence.

And then my little one started to cry.

“Kids!” I shrieked, “Kids! Are you okay? Somebody talk to me!”

“Yeah mom,” said my eldest. He was sitting directly behind me. “I think so.”

I heard glass shifting in sharp little ice cube sounds. I heard the car door open behind me. I heard my daughter in the far left seat groan very quietly. My baby was still crying.

I must’ve lost it just a little.

Over and over, I screamed at the kids to tell me they were okay until my eldest opened my car door.

He got right up in my face.

He made eye contact until I was quiet.

“Mom,” he said, “we’re okay. We’re all three out of the car and standing here. I’ve got the kid, he’s just scared. Look, he stopped crying.”

And that’s when it occurred to me that I couldn’t move.

My brain told my head to turn and look out of the car, but my head didn’t want to.

Weird.

That was it, weird.

And I just didn’t care because my babies were standing in the middle of the road and promised that they weren’t hurt and they were okay and everyone was going to wait for the emergency vehicles and stay together and take care of each other until everything was okay again.

That’s what I needed to do. Fix stuff. Make it okay pronto.

I sat there and called my mother.

I know.

I told her where we were and could she come and collect us and that we were all okay but obviously without a vehicle.

Oh, and I couldn’t really move yet but it was all the same to me to sit there in the comfortable car and wait for her. I was fine. I called her, didn’t I, to tell her so. I must be.

I sat in the car, hearing voices that seemed jumbled and far away and looking at nothing much in particular, feeling tired and thankful and completely sure that we were all fine.

Which makes no sense.

But I didn’t need it to.

I just knew.

I was very surprised when a strange man popped his head into my personal space.

“Hi there,” said Mr Handsome.

“Hi.” Mental eye roll. Surely I could’ve come back with anything more clever.

“How are you feeling?”

“You know,” I said, “I’m fine, thank you. I just felt like I didn’t want to stand up yet. I’ll get out now, if you need me to.”

“Have you moved at all since the crash?”

I didn’t like his insinuation.

“No, but I was just pulling myself together. Look, I can turn my head, it just hurts to do it, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

I had barely shifted my chin to the right when he and the entire firefighting crew around him exclaimed, “STOP! No! Don’t move!”

Well. I didn’t know I was so popular.

I gave Mr Handsome the stink eye.

“I can wiggle my fingers and my toes. I can move my arms and make phone calls. I’m fine!”

“Look,” he said very calmly, “we don’t know if you have a hairline fracture anywhere in your spine. If you turn anything at all…you could pop it.”

And that’s when I went a little to jelly.

I let strapping young men strap me into a hard stretcher. I forgave them for lying me smack in the middle of the street in broad daylight with a crowd of onlookers who will remain forever anonymous, as my neck was in the cone of shame.

It was a bit much though, (paramedics take note here) that I was on an incline with my head lower.

I had a head rush, but I was glad I was wearing my nice skirt and top.

Someone else was put into the ambulance with me, and the paramedic asked me questions all the way to the hospital.

But not the other guy.

The other guy had broken ribs and a collapsed lung. But I didn’t find that out until much later.

By the time I was laid out in the ER, and my X-rays were being scrutinized, Hubby was sitting next to me again.

He told me my parents had arrived on the scene and collected the children and taken them on to church where they were surrounded for the day with instant multitudinous family.

A police officer stepped into our cubicle.

He explained that the other car had blatantly run a red light. The driver and his passenger were heading home after an all-night party. They had just stopped at a drive through for breakfast and the driver had glanced down at his wrapped McMuffin and never even saw the intersection coming.

He struck our front right car panel at full speed, crumpling it just to the edge of my door.

When we both spun, he struck the back right car panel, crumpling it just to the edge of the back door.

When we spun into the other car, we smashed out the left rear of our car.

The three kids in the back seat were leaned forward when the rear window shattered and threw parts from the other car into the seat at them, showering them in glass.

Not a scratch on them.

The officer mentioned that this was a perfect lawsuit. They had all the evidence in their report available. This negligent driver had totaled a family car, minors were involved, and here was the mom laid out in hospital.

He gave us paperwork and respectfully backed out.

Hubby and I just looked at each other as a doctor walked in.

“No fractures,” he said. “Just a full-body whiplash. Take your time starting to move. I’ll prescribe some pain killers.”

Sometimes you have “church” in the most unlikely places.

It dawns on you that God wasn’t waiting around somewhere for you to show up.

He was sitting right here with you the whole time.

With His arms around you.

Every scripture involving the concept of thanksgiving, grace, and mercy popped into my head.

And I thought they were all beyond true.

I felt nothing but sympathy and sadness for the people in the car that had hit us. They were hurt, and we weren’t. We had a loving family with multitudinous arms lifting us up.

I didn’t know what kind of family these strangers were going home to.

What would their own mothers say, running to see them in the hospital?

Were they afraid? How many ways had this morning changed their lives, maybe forever? Were they going to spend months worrying, waiting for us to hunt them down?

Because we didn’t.

When God hands you the lives of your children, you don’t ask for a single thing more.

I believe my kids learned a thing or two that day about how much Jesus loved them so, without anyone saying a thing.

Later, at home, I put on – very slowly – the sparkly top I had bought for New Year’s Eve.

I answered the constantly ringing phone to reassure everyone that, yes, our open house New Year’s party was still on. Please come.

For once, I didn’t do dishes or join the Xbox dance-off or hula hoop contest.

I just sat up very straight and soaked in the love that permeated our home.

And tried to thank the angels who had been sitting on the kids in the backseat.

Road Trippin’

Summer is almost here and the freedom of the open road calls louder each day.

I can drown it out with my lawnmower for only so long and then it’s time for a family vacay.

If you’re like me, the week leading up to a road trip is full of panicky planning and packing, culminating the night before we leave, when I won’t sleep anyway from nerves.

Because I’m pretty sure I forgot something. Major.

Which means I begin our trip already exhausted.

Day One of the road trip begins just as dawn cracks and includes a great many last minute scuffles and false starts before take-off.

The first couple of hours include negotiating music selections, re-organizing personal items, watching the sunrise, and eating the first of far too many disgusting road trip breakfasts.

If Hubby is Pilot, we have it packed so as not to waste valuable road time in a drive through. Beverages are discouraged to keep bathroom stops to a minimum.

This is important to note.

This means NO CAFFEINE was administered to anyone in the car.

Day One is a marathon.

Day One is dedicated to getting as far down the road as possible before stopping. Day One assumes anything within driving distance is already familiar and therefore not worthy for the title “Travel Destination”. Day Two may have something to offer, but Day One is all about sitting in cramped quarters trying to distract yourself through long, straight, uninterrupted stretches of wasteland.

Downtown LA qualifies.

If Texas is between you and your destiny, you know how it feels to be a Road Zombie. If you have driven through the state of California…horizontally…you’ve been a Road Zombie. If you’ve driven past so many crops that you can identify them by smell with the window up, you have been a Road Zombie.

Your eyes get heavy. Your hands no longer feel the wheel. Your butt is numb and your leg wants to cramp if you wiggle your toes. Your left arm is sunburned because, naturally, your road trip has the car turned with the sun in your window. You’re squinting because a million dead bugs blanket the windshield, and once the afternoon rain hits, your wipers turn it into a rich soup that will take a few miles to eliminate, which is barely in time for you to dodge yet another big rig lumbering along ahead of you.

These truck drivers are always happy. You pass them and they seem to say, from their giant seats in the sky, “I have a mini-bar and a bathroom in my truck! I have absolutely no passengers so I can blast ANY music I want from my radio. I can see the speed traps way ahead of time. I can choose my own pace because I am the BIGGEST thing out here on 16 wheels baby. Texas? Big deal. I’m going from Sacramento to New Orleans. Now get outta my way before I blast the air horn.”

And we do.

Once in a while I get startled awake by a motorcycle brigade passing by.

I’ve kept my eyes on the horizon for five hours straight, not once looking in the rearview mirror because I will not only see my kid stuffing a Lego into another kids’ ear, but where I’ve already been.

See it once, shame on them. See it twice, shame on me.

Motorcycles move in a school, like fish. They drive on any part of the road they please, including the shoulder, the center divide line, and your bumpers.

One minute you’re driving along, day-dreaming about the next Motel 6, and suddenly you’re surrounded. Don’t panic. Don’t make any sudden steering maneuvers. They will part fluidly, pass you on all sides and move on down the road, braids flying from under helmets, boots thrust forward in the barcalounger position, much too cool to acknowledge you.

They will get to the Motel 6 first.

Maybe they don’t carry kids and legos, but they have more body parts going numb than I do.

So they’re in a hurry.

Day One ends with a personal vow as I stagger into an uncharted town in the middle of nowhere, face haggard, hair blown into dreadlocks, and a ghastly gleam in my eye.

“Apocalypse happening…first thing in the morning…if they don’t have coffee!”

Robbing Peter, Paying Paul

Something I wrote 2 years ago and I want to remember it.

I’m in mourning.  My unsuspecting child hit the point of no return on his timeline.  The moment when a boy becomes a man.  I do not refer to the rite of passage wherein he must kill his first bear or be tied to an anthill to prove his valor.  He just turned 13.

And he will never be the same.

My biggest newborn was a hefty 9 pounds, 7 ounces, and a happier baby you will never meet nor a sweeter little boy.  My son has always looked out for others, taken his turn, held my hand, tried to please.  He followed my fashion advice.  He excelled in school.  My kind and gentle giant.

But not today.

My poor innocent was poisoned with testosterone overnight and in his place is the Dr. Jekyll of teens.  It is suddenly asking too much to make eye contact, let alone enunciate, when he speaks.  A conversation of grunts is the new norm.  My tall handsome son has taken on a hunched shoulder and a slovenly hairdo.  Burping and body odor are no longer unfortunate incidents but matters of personal pride.

Oh my lovely boy, where have you gone?

Bill Cosby once said that he and his wife had five children “because they did not want six”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  Five is a wonderful number if you can pull it off.  Mine span ten years and I only hope that’s enough.  The timing with our family plan was that when the younger children were entering the delusional entitled teen years, the older ones would be exiting them with a new-found sense of gratitude and maturity.  This way, there would always be somebody in the house who still thought I might know something.

Sigh.

Our eldest son just came home from a year-long commitment on AmeriCorps.  At the tender age of 21, he returned to much fanfare and chicken enchiladas.  Sometime the next day, he pulled me aside and confessed that during his wanderings he realized that his parents had actually “busted their butts” raising him and his siblings and he appreciated it.  He met many, many kids out there with parents that they themselves were having to parent.

Home is a place for our kids to be kids but that may be a rarer thing than I assumed.

I remembered all the times I wanted to throw in the towel, give in to them, give up on them, or run away from them….but didn’t.  You practice doing the ‘tough love’ thing until you can balance the ‘tough’ with the ‘love’.

And eventually, if you don’t die of a broken heart first, they grow up.

I spent some years praying hard and loving our eldest furiously.  Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I hoped his latest adventure would get his feet firmly planted and his head on straight.  And now his head, while definitely set much straighter, sports a fresh mohawk celebrating his graduation from the self-imposed straight and narrow. He stands tall and is ready to move on to the next part of his story.

He is kinder, he is gentler, he is thoughtful.

We make eye contact.

So in one month, I have lost a son and found a son.  There are places where the transfer is not yet complete; both need a haircut and who doesn’t love a good healthy belch?  I am going to miss my younger son terribly while he’s gone.  I see days coming where I will have to go ninja on him to save him from himself or perhaps hold tightly to some line in the sand while he figures out up from down.  But we are raising men and women of courage and values.

They will only know what that looks like by looking at us.

Of course, there is our youngest, yet untouched by teenager angst.  God knew exactly what He was doing when He provided the last-born comic relief for our family.  With all of the changes in our growing brood, his enthusiastic smiles and guileless dedication to childhood is refreshing. It reminds me that, like Peter Pan, that little sparkle of youth inside carries through, no matter what our age.

Growing up is a process of someone’s heart deciding who it wants to be and when.

There’s faith and hope and love during the wait.

And thankfully, the sparkle of laughter along the way.