Saturday, November 23, 2013

Actually, no offense

Oh, to be a kid.
The carefree lifestyle of decorated cereal boxes that don’t flash the word FIBER across the front to lure in adults and other boring people.  The wonderment of the latest toy craze.  The magic of simplicity, like swinging on a swing and not feeling like you’re going to toss the cookies you had at lunch.  There are rewards of ice cream and early bedtime.  There are naps.  
Oh, the naps.
But there’s also the fact that kids can presumably act like a grown up and be fairly cute about it.  Kind of like those old painting where animals are playing poker or shooting pool.  Totally unrealistic and yet so comical because they are trying so hard to be like us, but they are so very far away.
That’s what my daughter has become.  Not a bulldog shooting the eight ball in the corner pocket.  She’s become a wanna-be adult.
Two very important phrases come to mind when I think of her five-year old brain and what it must be going through.  The first phrase is: actually.
As in, “actually, whatever I say after I say the word ‘actually’ is really just a rambling sentence that explains that whatever you said was completely wrong and whatever I’m saying is completely right.”  
For example, I might say, “time to go to bed, dear.”
“Actually,” she replies, “the time is only 8:24 and you said that I have to be in bed at 8:30, so I can stay up for six more minutes.”  
“You need to eat some of everything on your plate.”
“Actually,” she retorts, I have eaten at least one of everything.  I just took a little bite out of it so there is still a lot left, but actually I tasted it, and, no offense, mom, but it makes me want to barf.”
And that, my adult friends, is the next phrase that makes me want to be a kid.  “No offense.”
I don’t know where my daughter heard this, but if I find the person who introduced her to it I will, no offense, slap them to next week and feed them food that will actually make them vomit.  Apparently my daughter is under the impression that she can say whatever the world she wants to say as long as she puts the words “no offense” in front of it.  No amount of explanation or discussion will change this.  I tell her it’s not kind, it’s not nice, and it’s not the polite thing to do.  But she just looks at me and says, “no offense, mom, but you’re wrong.”
So I get to spend my days blushing and shaking my head when this cute little blonde haired girl says things like, “no offense, but that lady’s outfit is really ugly.”  And the lady in question is well within earshot.  I glance over at her and offer an apologetic grin hoping that she didn’t quite hear that correctly or that she thinks my kid is being funny, when I notice that my daughter was actually right.  The lady was indeed wearing rather hideous looking clothes.
And that right there is the other main reason I want to be a kid.  
Kids are honest.  They say it like they see.  They see the world through truthful eyes and let those truths come out of their little sticky mouths and remind us, now and then, that honesty is the best policy.  
They also remind us that we should check our clothes in the mirror once in a while, taste the food we serve our family and our guests, and that 8:30 means 8:30.
No offense, but actually, they’re pretty smart.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You snooze, you lose

I’m a snooze-aholic.  I’m the person who purposely sets her alarm clock nine or eighteen minutes before I really need to get up so that I can have the pleasure of smacking that button on the top of my clock with the force of a freight train coming down a mountain before rolling back over and snuggling into the warm blankets.
Somehow, in my weary mind, I feel that I am tricking my body into thinking that I’m doing something really nice for it.  It’s the equivalent of knowing that you’re going to eat an entire pie, but you just serve yourself one sliver at a time, purposely allowing yourself the treat and the lack of self-restraint.
Because when it comes to pie and sleep, I have little self-restraint.
Which is why I’m so deeply in love with my snooze button.
And which is also why, I know now, that I stumble around for the first fifteen minutes of my day, walking in circles and doing things I have no recollection of because my body does not like the snooze button as much as my mind does.  There will be days when I have to stop and think and try to remember if I ate breakfast because I literally don’t remember what I did when I first woke up.  Sometimes I even have to look at the bread bin to see if there is a missing bagel.  How I manage to make a pot of coffee in this state of mind every day without burning down the house is itself a miracle.
Turns out that snoozy habit of mine is doing more harm than good.  
In a perfect world, or on the weekends when there are no soccer games or theater rehearsals, our bodies have little internal clocks that tell us to wake up.  They get all primed and ready about an hour before our eyes pop open and little chemicals are released that wakes us up happy, ready to start the day, and able to remember if we consumed toast.
But the world is not perfect, and there are lunches to be packed and jobs to be done and so we rely on these mechanical devices to rouse us out of our sleep, no matter if our body is ready or not.  When we hit the snooze button, though, there’s a chance our bodies will reset and fall back into the deepest of sleeps so that nine minutes later when it goes back off you find yourself slapping your nightstand and then standing in your bathroom wondering how you got there.
As always, the Internet provides countless tips on how to break the snooze addiction.  Some of them are really genius, as if some fancy scientist worked very hard to come up with them.  These suggestions are: go to bed earlier, put your alarm clock out of your reach, and disable your snooze button by super gluing it so that it is impossible to use.  Other more creative ideas are: buy a coffee pot with a timer, set your thermostat to heat your room an hour before waking so that your body will release those wake-up chemicals, or get a really loud alarm that will scare you so senseless that even if you push the snooze, your beating heart will keep you wide awake.  My favorite suggestion however, is to “reward your brain with being awake with an enjoyable mental activity such as reading a book, playing a game, or playing a musical instrument.”
I’m going with the last one.
So if at 6:00 AM one morning you hear the faint sounds of a saxophone coming from my house, do not panic.  I’m simply trying to remember if I enjoyed that bagel or not.
Endnote: Ever wonder why snooze alarms are only nine minutes?  It’s a feature of the digital age.  The clock only has to concentrate on the minute hand.  Ain’t got time for more math, I guess.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five napkins

In perfect world, I would listen to the quiet sounds of jazz music while I prepared a nutritious evening meal.  My children, numbering three, would each take a specific task to help organize our dining experience: one would get the plates, one would arrange the silverware, and the third would place perfectly folded napkins next to each setting.  My husband would put down the newspaper and join us at the table for a healthy dose of food, laughter, and family time.
But in reality, we spend 50% of our time eating from a paper bag before or after a sports or music practice, 30% of the time grabbing some sort of leftovers and shoving them in our face as fast as possible, 20% eating so late we are exhausted and staying awake is the main objective, and 10% of the time actually attempting the family dinner meal.
Of that measly 10%, 90% of the time someone forgets the napkins.
I usually get blamed, as mothers often do, and so I leave my warm food to gather them from the cupboard.  And every time I do this, I find myself going through the same motions.  I pick up a large stack of napkins, and flip through them to count: one, two, three, four, five.  One for each member of my family.
But it wasn’t always like this, of course.  When I was growing up, it was just my mom and dad and I and our napkins numbered three.  When my husband started joining us more and more for meals, suddenly the number became four which was but a temporary increase, because soon enough he proposed and we married and I began setting the table with only two napkins.
Soon after that it was three.  
Then four.
Then five.
And I know in my heart of hearts, that despite the picky eaters and food battles, the spills and the seconds and requests for a bowl of plain noodles, I love counting out those five napkins.  Even if it’s a leftover night standing at the counter and not a roast chicken with homemade mashed potatoes, five napkins are still pretty great.
Sometimes we only have four, when a child is off at a friend’s house or my husband travels for work.  Even more rare, practically non-existent, is a mere two napkins for an in-house date night.  Conversely, sometimes we count out seven napkins and have to pull in an extra chair for grandparent company, which is only beat out by big family gathering when napkin need is grossly outnumbered by the amount of folding chairs that we own.
But still, I know I am truly fortunate when I count out five.  I never thought that something so simple, such a menial daily task could make such a difference in my life, but the older I get the more important I realize these things are.  Maybe it’s the fact that I do it so often, flipping through that stack and thumbing out one for each member of my family, that it has been so easily overlooked for so long.  
As I sit back and watch my children get older, I realize that my days of setting five napkins are numbered.  The teen years send them spinning in a million directions, and soon enough they will trickle off to college or adulthood and I’ll watch my number of napkins drop.
From five to four.
From four to three.
From three to two.
And on those days when we gather and I am lucky enough to count out five napkins again, I will cherish every flip of my thumb and treat each one as the blessing that it truly is.  If the blessings continue, maybe someday I’ll have the pleasure of counting out eight or ten or twelve napkins.  I’d even make roast chicken and homemade mashed potatoes for that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You’re lookin’ at country

Not everyone likes country music, and I can appreciate that.  I know that plenty of people out there actually will go as far as to say they despise it, that they would rather listen to a crying baby run its fingernails down a chalkboard and operate a leaf blower at the same time, probably the way I personally feel about certain types of music.  
But for me, I love country music.  I always have, thanks to my dad and his collection of Willie, Merle, and Johnny, and I always will.
If you’re one of those people who don’t prefer country, I thought I’d clear up a few facts about it:
All country music involves a dying dog.  FALSE.  However, there are a few songs that do mention the passing of a worthy hound, some that will even remind you of Old Yeller and choke you up a bit.
All country music must include something about “mama.”  FALSE.  Although there are plenty of songs that mention somebody’s mama, I can assure you that in country music, being a mama is something to be proud of.  With a few exceptions, mama is always someone you’d want to meet.
All country music sounds all twang-y and whiny.  FALSE.  That twang you hear is just a little bit of soul coming through the microphone, and the so-called whininess is just the true heart of the singer telling his story. Also, partly TRUE.  Non-scientific studies have shown that the larger the brim of the hat, the deeper the twang.  (Not really, I just made that up.)
All country music has a steady rhythm and you could do the Boot Scootin’ Boogie to anything you might hear on the radio.  FALSE.  Please don’t try to line dance to every country song.  You will embarrass yourself and most likely your children.
The truth about country music, or at least why I love it so much, is that those artists are the great storytellers of our time.  From folk to bluegrass to mainstream country, each of the artists does more than just sing a song and strum a few chords.  They share simple emotions that connect with the listener, emotions that they may have felt if they had just lost a dog or hugged a mama.  If you’ve ever been sad, mad, happy, lonely, hurt, in love, cheated on, cheated with, lied, lied to, poor, rich, hitched, divorced, young, old, or stuck somewhere in the middle, country music has a song for you. 
And that’s the truth.  Here are a few more:
Country music still has style and class.  TRUE.  How many other types of music will you see where performers still dress up in glamorous dresses and suits and ties?  Seems some recent performers have been choosing to wear the absolute opposite.
Country music is fun to sing along with.  TRUE.  The roots of this music are not based on complicated chords like diminished augmented sevenths.  It serves it’s purpose by giving you something to tap your foot along with and keeps it basic enough so by the end of the song, you’ve got the chorus down pat.  The fancy stuff?  Save that for the steel guitar and honkytonk piano breaks.
Country music makes you proud to be an American, and a hard working one at that.  TRUE.  You’d be hard pressed to find any other music out there that still celebrates the freedom our country has, and even more hard pressed to find music that tells about how we got here.  From the steel mills to the battlefields, the slow strum of an acoustic guitar tells the tales of the everyday American man.  
And his mama.
And maybe his dog.
All in all, I admit that sometimes it gets me right in the back of the throat so much that I almost need to tip my hat and cover my eyes before I two-step on to the next song.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Uncomfortable fun

When’s the last time you stepped into something fairly uncomfortable?  And no, I’m not talking about skinny jeans or platform heels.  That’s just ridiciulous.  I’m talking about stepping out of your comfort zone and spicing things up a little, maybe taking a break from the chicken noodle soup of life and straight into a hot tamale.  
For me, we’ll say it was late July.
For those who know me now, you might be surprised to find out that I was indeed a very shy child.  I hated doing anything in front of anyone, blushed at the drop of a hat, and was perfectly fine staying at home instead of out socializing because I was afraid no one would like me or I’d do something stupid or generally embarrass myself more than I did usually, which was fairly frequent.  Ask my parents.  They’ll shake their heads and tell you it’s true.
I dabbled in theater in high school but was always content to work backstage or hide behind my instrument in the accompanying pit band.  I had one role onstage, but was beyond nervous the entire time and hoped that no one could see my gigantic sweat stains from the audience.  But recently my children decided to give community theater a try, and as I sat there watching them on stage, I couldn’t help but think to myself that they were having way too much fun.
Fun I wanted to have.
I think I even got a little jealous of them.
So I gathered my nerves and auditioned for the next production the theater company was putting on, and by some miracle of miracles, was given a part in the play.
From there on out it has been a wild ride.  I kind of see it as one of the funny videos you see on TV where there’s a little kid or an old lady, and she steps onto a trampoline.  At first, she is quite tentative.  She slowly steps and slowly bounces, and through a series of nerve building jumps, ends up bouncing as high as possible and maybe even throwing in some backflips, and never wants her turn to end.
I had no idea that doing this play would be “backflip” fun, but it is. There are lines and props and costumes and lights and some really great people up on stage and behind the director’s table.
In a world that seems to be dominated by wins and losses, it’s refreshing to see people come together for neither a win nor a loss, just plain teamwork.  On stage, there are no points.  No one calls a foul or gets benched.  We all just work together to make it the best show that we possibly can.  And besides that being generally a cool concept,  it also makes the whole bit of trying something completely new a little easier.  And more wonderful.
I’m not going to encourage all of you to take up community theater, but what a world it would be if we all stepped out of our comfort zones a little bit. Pushed ourselves beyond our everyday life.  Tried something new and out of the norm.  I can vouch that my experience of attempting something completely different has been a delightful one, and thankfully my “uncomfort” is turning into “comfort.”  (This, statement, however, applies only to my general participation in the upcoming production.  It does not apply to my costume, which sadly includes high heels.)
I survived all six shows.  In heels.  And apparently a "trashy" dress according to one audience member.

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