Monthly Archives: September 2012

I’m Still Here

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Fall is my busiest time of year – from the time school starts, the homework takes over (and good lord is 3rd grade the homework explosion year!), then cheer and band practices, high school games on Fridays, midget league games on Saturdays & Sundays. Throw in the cheer competitions, the birthdays of every family member, party planning, other kids’ birthdays, dance classes, school events and probably 65 more things I am forgetting about right now, and I am exhausted! And blogging often takes a backseat.

But despite the crazy schedules and the stress and the exhaustion, I still love this time of year. And I want to grab onto every minute of it and hold it tight, because I know it will be gone WAY before I am ready.

       

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Yes, Virginia…

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This post is a part of Mama Kat’s Writing Prompts.  This week’s prompts are here and I chose “Describe a moment where you or your child lost a part of childhood (realizing Santa isn’t real, etc.)”

When I was about five or six years old, I was lying awake one Christmas Eve, too excited to sleep. And I heard my mom on the phone with her twin sister. I will always remember what it felt like to hear those words: “Ray is putting together Gina’s Barbie Townhouse.” And at that moment, I knew. I spent the rest of my childhood not believing. And you know what? That was sad.

I never told my parents I heard – I was afraid I’d get in trouble for being awake that late, so for years they thought I believed when I didn’t. The Christmas season was stressful for me. Adults always like to ask kids about Santa – Is he coming? What is he bringing? Have you seen him yet? And every one of those questions made me feel awful. And Christmas mornings? Oh MAN, they were tough. My parents could never understand why I didn’t jump excitedly out of bed like most kids. They would have to wake me up and practically drag me downstairs.

Most of the discomfort came from the pretending, rather than the lack of Santa, but not all. I was disappointed that he wasn’t real. And I always felt a little left out of the excitement and anticipation that the other kids felt about Santa. The fact is (for me at least) a Christmas without Santa is a Christmas without magic. And I like my Christmases magical.

So, when it came time to have kids of my own, I knew I wanted to make sure their Christmases were magical, and that meant seeing to it that Santa was real to them for as long as they were willing to believe. So I had my first child and Christmas was magical again. My son believed longer than I actually expected him to, and every year I waited for the inevitable.

Then, finally it came – The Talk.  No, not that Talk, the other Talk. The Santa Talk. To be honest, the year before, I really wasn’t sure that he believed. I figured he was just keeping quiet about it just in case. He had asked me once if Santa was real, and I gave him the “what do you think?” He said yes, so I said yes and that was that.

Then the next year, about a month before Christmas, he asked again and we had basically the same exchange, but it became clear that he was doubting things a bit. Then, maybe a week later, after everyone else had gone to bed, he came out and asked me again. I tried the “what do you think” response again, but he looked me right in the eye and said, “Mom, I really want to know. I need you to tell me the truth.” And I had to. And it broke my heart into a million little Christmas shaped pieces. I mean, I knew he wouldn’t believe forever, and I didn’t want him to be the kid who got teased for believing, but it’s so hard to let go.

I explained the origins of St. Nicholas, and gave him the spiel about the spirit and magic of Christmas. And I think there was a little part of him that was relieved. But the other part? The little boy who was growing up way too fast for my liking? That part cried. I don’t think it was disappointment as much as it was the finality of it – the end of the magic. But whatever the reason, he cried his heart out and said he wished he never asked, and the million little Christmas shaped pieces of my heart broke into a million more.

Christopher M. Panatier

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I didn’t know Christopher M. Panatier. I had never even heard his name until I heard it read along with 2,995 others. And though I know I heard it read, I don’t know that I really even took notice of it. 2,996 is a lot of names. It’s especially a lot of names when we’re talking about people who lost their lives.

Christopher Panatier was 36 on that day. Eight years younger than I am now. Many, many years younger, I’m sure, than anyone ever imagined they would lose him. Christopher was a foreign currency trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. I imagine he left for work that day in the towers thinking the worst thing he would deal with was traffic, or irritable clients, or a busy day. Instead, he – along with almost 3,000 others, lost his life in the one of the worst tragedies we have seen in this country.

Christopher was a husband, a father, a son. He married his high school sweetheart, Carolyn, and they had two children, Annie and Christopher. His children were only 6 and 4 when they lost him. Too young to lose their father. Especially to lose him that way. Too young to even understand how something like that could happen. But really, there is no age, no amount of knowledge or wisdom that could ever make sense of what happened that day.

Everyone who talks about Christopher seems to mention what an amazing, adventurous, and funny man he was. People were drawn to him.

So even though I didn’t know Christopher, I am remembering him along with the other innocent victims of the September 11th 2001 attacks. He was a good man, a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. Because of that, his legacy lives on.

He will be remembered not only for how he died, but for how he lived.

This post is a part of Project 2,966. Go there to see more tributes.

Theatre Rules

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My husband and I went to the theatre last night to see Jersey Boys (which, by the way, is fantastic and you should immediately go see it – but be prepared to sing Sherry and Oh What a Night incessantly for the next 2 weeks). This experience, as well as a few other recent theatre nights has made it clear to me that people are either: profoundly stupid, incredibly rude, or entirely deaf and blind as not to be able to understand the basic rules of the theatre. So for their benefit (not yours, I know you would never behave like a buffoon at the theatre), I will review these rules, so we can all enjoy ourselves more at the theatre, and not be forced to shove an entire box of gummy bears down anyone’s throat. I’m a giver.

Rule #1: When the announcement comes over the sound system that says, “Please power off all electronic devices, including cell phones.” What they mean is TURN THEM OFF, YOU IDIOTS!  They do not mean a) Put them on vibrate, b) lower the volume and hide them in your pocket, or c) Everyone turn them off, except for that one guy in row S! There are reasons why they ask you to turn them off. One – because no one wants to hear your stupid phone in the middle of the performance (I speak from experience here – last night, in a 10-foot radius around me, THREE cell phones went off. THREE! It’s a miracle I am not in jail right now), Two – because even though you have it on vibrate, no one wants to be blinded by your bright iphone screen in the darkened theatre. And Three – because cell signals can interfere with the signals on the wireless mics. Which interferes with my enjoyment of the show. Which could possibly interfere with my not punching you in the face.

Rule #2: When they say no photography, they mean NO PHOTOGRAPHY! No one wants to see your stupid camera phone in their view of the show. Or your digital camera. Or – god help us – your stupid flash! If you had a clue about basic photography, you would know that using that flash is only going to get you a nice shot of the big heads in front of you, and nothing of the stage. If photography isn’t completely off-limits, turn off the flash, turn off the preview screens and turn off the belief that you have the right to screw up anyone else’s view.

Rule #3: While we’re on the topic of those big heads in front of you – please – I am begging you not to wear a big ass hat or turban or anything else big on your head.

Rule #4: Shut up! No really, SHUT UP.  If you have a lot to say, you either need to say it before the performance, after the performance, or during intermission.  If you can’t manage to do this, then stay the hell home and wait until someone turns this lovely live performance into a crappy movie version. The guy behind me last night who had a 5-minute LOUD conversation with his wife during Act II had no idea how close he came to his untimely demise. Because, SHUT UP!!!!

Rule #5: While were to the topic of talking, let’s educate ourselves: This is a play. These are actors. It’s a made-up story full of made-up situations, not live-action. Therefore, they do not need you to warn them of something that is about to happen, they don’t need your advice, and all of us around you certainly don’t need “Oh no he didn’t!” after every twist and turn of the plot. Please see Rule 4 and shut up.

Rule #6: Open your candy before the show starts. I know you had time. I sat there as long as you did waiting for it to start, so I am positive that you had time to get that crinkly pack of Twizzlers open before shut up time started.

Rule #7: If you see someone you know a few rows away, feel free to wave and say hello. But I swear, if you continue to lean across your fellow patrons and yell about How’s Jim, and Vacation was awesome, and details of your colonoscopy, someone is going to hurt you. This goes for before the performance and during intermission as well.

Rule #8: Your drink is gone. It’s honestly, truly, completely, unequivocally GONE. No amount of slurping will change that.

Rule #9: This is not a baseball game – the plan to “sit here until the person who has this seat” comes along is not going to fly.

Rule #10: Don’t be a clapper. I’m begging you. Just because the song is catchy and has a nice beat doesn’t’ mean we all need to jump on the clapping bandwagon like a bunch of stupid, clapping sheep. Because it’s loud and drowns out the music, it’s annoying, and the song will change and you’ll be all confused about what to do. Because you are a stupid sheep-like clapper.

And most importantly,

Rule #11: Guess what? I know the songs, too! I do! I know the melody and all the words and I was in this production in high school and I remember it all!!!!! OMG, Yay me!!! But I also know that the people around me did not pay $75 a head to listen to me sing. Exactly like I did not pay to hear you sing. Even if you’re a great singer? Yes – even then. But guess what else? You suck at singing, so for the love of god, SHUT UP!!!!!!

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Fall

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Do you feel it? That little chill in the air? In between the hot sun and the quick rain showers? You know what that is? That, my friends, is FALL!

Fall is my very favorite season. As much as I love swimming in the summer and snowstorms in the winter, it’s fall that I love the most. I love the falling leaves and the corn stalks and the pumpkins. I love harvest colors and hot soup and mashed potatoes. I love warm cider and sweaters and campfires. And even though it breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces to have to give up sandals, I still love fall. Actually, who am I kidding? I wear sandals until my toes turn blue. And then I’ll throw on my rainbow toe-socks and my Birkenstocks and my family will all distance themselves from me in public and then I’ll sing Friend of the Devil at full volume so they stay away for a while longer and give me a few minutes of peace. Hee. Except the girl, that is. She doesn’t care if her mom looks like a deranged blind woman who got dressed while drunk and apparently poked out her eardrums in the process, what with the embarrassingly loud and off-key singing. Nope, she just cares that I am soft (which I am) and have snacks (which I do). So we’ll hold hands, wear matching rainbow toe socks and we’ll go jump in the leaves. Because I Love Fall!

Fall is a nostalgic time for me, and though it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, it also brings on some sort of sad feelings, as well. Actually, I don’t know if they’re sad exactly. More like bittersweet. Fall makes me feel young and makes me feel old. Mostly, Fall takes me back to college. Not the semester after I screwed up, when I lived at home. Not the following years, living in the city and working and finishing up. Don’t get me wrong, there were great things about those times, but I am talking about College. When you leave home for the first time and live in a dorm and have real honest-to-goodness ivy covered walls and you feel like a grown up. That college. I went to a very small, private college in an Amish town. It was heaven, except for when it was hell. The hell part is where the bittersweet part comes in.

I was always the really smart and fun-loving, well-liked but never quite in the “in-crowd” types. I expected to breeze through college the way I did high school. And I would have, too, if it hadn’t been for the freedom. After years of being entirely controlled, the freedom got me. The staying out and partying and eating whatever the hell I want without looking over my shoulder got the better of me. I was having the time of my life, but I had no idea where to draw the line. I never really had much choice in what I ate, or wore, or where I went and with whom. I had an early curfew and little trust, although unwarranted. And suddenly, I was On My Own. Oh Yeah.

At first, I was a typical college freshman. I missed some early classes and went to parties and drank too much and acted stupid. Just like everyone else. But in time, the parties and the fun became the primary activity and the actual schooling secondary. I think the shit really started to hit the fan when I took a class on Victorian Literature, or The Most Boring Class in the Entire World, Ever. It was at 2:30 in the afternoon, in Old Main. And too often, as I would be walking across the quad, I’d see my fairy godfather in the distance, who would spot me and yell, “Hey Gina! Let’s go drink a bottle of Black Velvet!” And off I would go.

So the partying started to take the front seat, but I still managed. Then, my sophomore year, things went downhill even faster. My two good friends, who partied with me but also kept me a bit reined in, both graduated. I had joined a sorority, and even though I loved those girls, I never quite felt like I fit in. I always felt like I was on the outside. My really good friend from freshman year ended up in a different sorority and we drifted apart. Another good friend dropped out. So there I was, a loner. An overprotected child who never quite lived up to the standards set for her. A sad girl who felt entirely alone in the world. A lost soul who wanted to feel accepted and loved but never did. I know, everyone feels that way. But still, it dominated me. An injury had me on a break from the swim team, and when I went back, I felt like an outcast. So I quit. I quit the majorettes. I quit life.

I looked for love from anyone who looked my way. I drank, I partied, I escaped. I made some new friends and made excess my middle name. I had a ton of fun, but when I think back on it, I feel as much sadness as happiness. I thought I was finding myself, but it turned out I was losing myself.

I can’t help to catch myself occasionally wondering “what if…” What if I had just kept it under control? What if I had been stronger? What if I had met the right person instead of all of the wrong ones? Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. I love my husband and kids and if things had been different, I wouldn’t have them right now. But the “what ifs” still plague me. I wonder what people really thought of me. Probably not much. I was the class clown. The fun-lover. The party girl. But I wasn’t the girl you took to the formal. Or home to meet mom. I was the one you could count on to drop everything and make a beer run. I was the one who was always up for just one more. I was the one you could tell little lies to and would pretend to believe them, just because it felt good. At least in that moment.

And still, somehow, I love Fall. It’s a new beginning – new chance. It’s canoeing on the lake and outdoor parties and walks in the woods and shooting cows with Nerf darts. It’s Wish You Were Here and dorm fridges and care packages. It’s rainbow vanilla at the ice cream parlor and undercooked pepperoni rolls. It’s sweetness and romance and lying on a blanket watching clouds. It’s the crunch of leaves and the sound of a marching band. It’s brand new notebooks and pencils. It’s flannel shirts, it’s toasted marshmallows. It’s the past. It’s the future. It’s ivory silk and burgundy velvet. It’s bringing them home for the first time. It’s the first day of school and hayrides and little boy smiles. It’s fairies and goblins. It’s football and hot chocolate and little girl giggles. It’s swinging in a hammock with your son and daughter, wondering why you ever thought “what if…”

I love Fall.

   

Fighting Skankoween

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Fall is coming! It’s the time of year when I start thinking about falling leaves and football and hot cider and campfires and skanks.

What’s that?

Yes – skanks. Because somehow Halloween has turned into Skankoween. And those of you with daughters surely know exactly what I’m talking about – you attempt to find Halloween costumes for your little girls, only to discover that the majority of the options out there should have “skanky” right in the description (all of the costumes below come in kid’s sizes – I didn’t even include the ones labeled as “teen” costumes – not that they are appropriate for teens, either).

You have skanky nurse:

Skanky cop:

Skanky princess:

Skanky pirate:

Skanky Vampire:

Skanky whatever the heck these are:

I even came across one costume site that had costumes arranged by category & there was an entire section of child’s French maid costumes. French maid! The traditional costume of skanks everywhere:

Look – I get it – it’s Halloween. Everyone wants to have fun and live it up and for a day – be someone else – someone different or crazy or sexy. And if you are an adult – fine – have at it. But little girls need to be little girls! They can dress up and be someone new, too, as long as that someone new doesn’t look like a streetwalker.

It’s easy when they’re infants and toddlers – you can put them in a big puffy teddy bear costume or a long angel dress and they’re fine. When they’re very young children, they’re happy with a big, poufy princess getup. But then, around the age of 7 or so, they’re outgrowing those costumes & they want something different. This, my friends, is when you will lose your mind. Because even when they have a totally acceptable costume idea in their mind, you may not be able to find it (or at least a non-skanky version of it).

For example, a few years ago, my daughter wanted to be a bride for Halloween. I was happy because it would involve a full coverage dress and think about it – what’s more pure and non-skanky than a bride, right? WRONG. I spent a month looking in every single store in southwestern Pennsylvania for an acceptable bride costume. Most stores had none (which amazed me, because I though bride was a pretty standard little girl costume, but it seems it has been replaced by all the skank), and the stores that DID have them were all completely inappropriate, despite being available in sizes as small as 2T – they were all either micro-minis, or had long skirts that were totally sheer. One has padding in the chest! Luckily, twitter came to the rescue when my friend saw my complaint and remembered that she had seen a perfect costume earlier that day & ran back out to get it for me. But not everyone will be so lucky, so here are my tips for keeping your daughter and you both happy on Halloween:

Start early.  I’m serious – start looking at costumes right now (or for those of you who are time-travel capable –  a month ago) – browse the costume websites and get an idea for what’s out there, lest you be surprised three days before you have to send your 2nd grader to school in a naughty nurse getup.

Don’t depend on the costume stores. Some of the best costumes I have found have not been from the Halloween superstores, but from places like Marshalls and TJ Maxx – they carry reasonably-priced costumes that are much higher quality than the ones from the costume stores. Also – check out other department & discount stores, resale shops, thrift stores, yard sales. Dance studios often sell old costumes – you can find some great deals that will work as costumes.

Pre-select some ideas.  I’m all for letting your child decide what they want to be, but sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming. Browse the websites for ideas and present the ones you think are appropriate to your child. The process will be much less painful if she never sees the “Hello Kitty” option:

Think outside the box. Sure, Monster High is popular, but I can tell you from experience that your daughter will be one of 37 Frankie Steins in her school alone. And because of this demand, you may not find the size (or the price) that you want. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with licensed character costumes, but if your child likes to be an original, look for original ideas. Google costume ideas & take a look at the image results. Add “funny” or “clever” or “beautiful” or “unique” (or any other descriptor), to the search to narrow it down to her interests & personality. Does she have a favorite book or movie – think about what those characters would wear. Is she interested in history? Go with a colonial or Civil war era costume. Does she like science? Get her a lab coat, some crazy accessories, and mess up her hair & she can be a mad scientist. Look at ethnic & traditional clothing of different countries (this is what my daughter is doing this year) – you can find some beautiful costume ideas if your daughter likes to be sparkly and colorful.

Make your own. Now – this one comes with a caveat – if you plan to actually make a costume (as in sew, etc), this option can be expensive. It seems like it should be cheaper than buying, but I learned the hard way that it usually isn’t. However – it does give you complete control over the way the costume looks and fits. But if you don’t want the hassle (or can’t sew), you can make your own costume by throwing different pieces together. Does she want to be a princess or a fairy or a bride? Scour the thrift stores for a pretty dress and add wings or a crown or make a veil from a headband & some tulle (we actually tried this, but couldn’t find a dress – so if this is your plan – start early & don’t be too set on one idea). A men’s white button down shirt can be a lab coat for the previously mentioned mad scientist or a doctor. Old dance costumes, bodysuits & stretchy pants (or sweatpants) can be paired up with accessories to be a million different things – cats, cows, dogs, bears, etc. Or add some wings and make a butterfly. Pair up a colorful skirt, top, and some scarves with a bunch of old jewelry and make a gypsy costume. Get a men’s white t-shirt (tall fit if you can find it), create a gold sash from a scarf or fabric, cut a yoke from a stiffer gold fabric like felt, hot glue some sparklies, and throw in a gold headband (the across the forehead kind) and some bangles & earring – voila – Cleopatra! There are a million ideas once you start thinking about it.

If all else fails – de-skank the skanky costume. Skirt too short? Have her wear leggings underneath. Exposed belly? Add a flesh-toned body suit.  Even with minimal sewing skills, you can tack on some extra fabric to add coverage to just about any costume – tulle works great – no hemming is needed, and because it’s lightweight, a few basic stitches will do the trick.

Last, but not least – a tip for next year: Head to Kmart or Wal-Mart or Target after Halloween is over and pick up some clearance costumes – or at least some accessories. For a few bucks, you can pick up some basics that will make putting together next year’s costume a breeze.