On the eve of 40

Tomorrow marks the day of my 40th birthday, or as my mom calls it, “the big one.”  My husband, The Captain, has another name for it.  He calls it a “decade” birthday and says kind things like “it’s not a big deal” and “it is just a stupid number” and the sweet, special insight such as, “you know, your life is halfway over.”

As with everything, these “big” or “decade” birthdays are a “rite of passage,” right? And “age doesn’t matter” and “it’s how you embrace life that gives it meaning” and “it’s just a number after all” and a million more clichés folks use to make “the big one” feel a little smaller.  Phooey.

So, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I decided to think of some cool things about turning 40 to soften the blow without sounding too much like a Hallmark card or a group therapy session.  “Hi, my name is Allison and I am going to be 40.”

The first cool thing about turning 40 is that I am now confident enough to say NO to things.  This was a hard lesson to learn, and many times I would find myself involved in activities I hated just because I felt that I had to say YES all of the time.  Now, I say what I think.  Do you want to do this? No.  Can you…” Nope.

Second, my children are potty trained.  This may seem like a small issue, but really it is not.  I don’t have any children in diapers therefore I don’t have to buy diapers anymore!  Woohoo!  That is relief within itself.  My purse can now be my purse, not a diaper bag, not a living, breathing, well-stocked necessity for every venture out of the house.  Also, I don’t have to carry any training pants in it for “emergencies” or throw away those training pants in the mall bathroom because “someone had a little, itsy, bitsy accident in them.”  Also, it is a relief to not have to stock up on Cheerios just to teach my boys where to aim in the toilet.  Cheerios have returned their “kitchen only” usage in my home!

The third thing cool about turning 40 is that I rock at the Pop Culture Edition of Trivial Pursuit.  Give me any question from the 80s to present day and I have got it.  Except for sports.  Those can just stay in the rectangle box.

The fourth cool thing about turning 40 is that I don’t get carded anymore.  This means I don’t have to wiggle my driver’s license out of my wallet which can be very inconvenient.  Really it is!  And if I do get carded, it is a compliment to how well my Clinique make-up looks.  Thank you, Clinique!

The fifth cool thing about turning 40 is that everything that I grew up with, like The Smurfs, Superman, vampires (think The Lost Boys), The Muppets, Super Mario Bros and Star Wars are all back. Back and, as George Costanza said, “Loving every minute of it.”  And guess what?  My dudes seriously believe I’m “cool” because I know about all of this crap.  Being 40, I think I may be a hero to my kids.  The force is with me.

The sixth cool thing about turning 40 is that I can brag about awesome concerts I have seen.  Now, I didn’t get the bragging rights by seeing the Beatles, but I have seen The Rolling Stones in concert (yeah, 8th row in Chicago) and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet tour (among other Bon Jovi shows).  I have seen The Boss in Asbury Park, NJ, and Sting and U2’s amazing Joshua Tree concert.  Plus, Clapton, BB King, INXS (the original), REM, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the king of boat drinks, Jimmy Buffett.  Oh, and the Boss?  Bruce Springsteen?  Yeah, I dated his cousin when I was a ninth grader.  We went to the mall together.  Twice. And a dance. Once.  It didn’t last.

And the last cool thing about turning 40 is that I get it now.  I get that my parents were right – they were right all along.  I get that my dudes are kids and they need to be kids as long as possible.  I get that my students have a lot of growing up to do and that’s OK because they are teenagers.  I get that I can always reflect back on my 30s, 20s, and younger and know that each experience was important, priceless, and each lesson learned made me who I am today.  I finally get it.

So bring on 40.  September 11th, 2012.  Anyone up for some Trivial Pursuit?

My facial expression is one of fear. Forty candles looked like someone set the entire cake on fire.

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Life is Laughter and Rediscovering Erma Bombeck

My mom, Crazy Pat, has always really been into the Erma Bombeck books. She would buy the hardbacks, read them cover to cover, and then let me read them.  The two I most vividly remember are Family – The Ties That Bind…And Gag! and If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?  It was 1987, and both of these books were keepers.

In 1987, I was 15.  It was a strange year.  I was a sophomore in high school in New Jersey. I had frizzy hair, the wrong clothes, braces and even a bionator – which is orthodontist speak for torture device – see my post on Teen Gooberville.  I worked at a doughnut shop in the mall where I had to wear a t-shirt that said “A Hole Like No Other.”  I. am. not. kidding.  (This shirt will have to be a topic for an entire other post).  😉

Every evening, no matter what, my mom could be found snuggled in on the sofa (or couch – whatever you want to call it depending on the region where you reside) reading Erma and laughing hysterically.  I had to read that book!

Looking back, after getting married, having children and dealing with progressive-like family dinners during any holiday, I decided that I needed to look at these books again, with a new perspective.

Here are some things I have rediscovered through Erma (all of her famous quips are in quotes):

Don’t deny yourself the little things.  “Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, ‘No thank you’ to desert that night. And for what?!”

There are no instruction manuals on how to being a good parent.  “When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he’s doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911. ”

Pets are important members of a family.  “Despite all the demands pets put on you, in the pecking order of a family, they are right near the top.” and “A dog will sit with you through the worst television show…and never once will he try to change the channel.”

Life may hand you lemons, and that is just life.  “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

A clean house is for the birds.  “Housework can kill you if done right.” and “Housework is a treadmill from futility to oblivion with stop-offs at tedium and counter productivity.” and “Housework, if it is done properly, can cause brain damage.”

Be a good listener.  “I love my mother for all the times she said absolutely nothing…Thinking back on it all, it must have been the most difficult part of mothering she ever had to do: knowing the outcome, yet feeling she had no right to keep me from charting my own path. I thank her for all her virtues, but mostly for never once having said, “I told you so.”

Having children can make one feel like a crazy psycho at times.  “Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”

Family is important.  “Families aren’t easy to join. They’re like an exclusive country club where membership makes impossible demands and the dues for an outsider are exorbitant.”

Justifying my kitchen prowess (or not so much of one).  “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes.”

Recycle, reduce, reuse.  “I found a letter to my sister the other day that I had forgotten to mail. It just needed a little updating to send. After “The baby is…..” I crossed out “toilet trained” and wrote in “graduating from high school this month.”

Laughter is highly important.  “When humor goes, there goes civilization.” and “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”  Amen, sister.

I wonder what Erma would think of blogging today.  Would she thoroughly enjoy the sharing of silly stories, life lessons and bittersweet sentiments?  Would she laugh at my doughnut shop uniform?  I think she would be pleased with this paradise of connecting through technology.  Thanks, Erma, for being the first to really write with flair, laughter and humbleness.  Glad I rediscovered you.

The original Crazy Pat hardbacks circa 1985 and 1987.

Teen Gooberville. Population Me.

In sixth grade, my mom decided it would be a good time for a family photo at Olan Mills.  She dressed us all in our Sunday best and attempted a new hair do on me.  Let me say this: my mom has short, naturally curly hair that she never uses anything more than a hair pick on it.  She never uses a curling iron, flat-iron or hot rollers.  But on this fateful day, she decided that my hair needed some “body” and “lift” and plugged in her 1965 set of hot rollers.  One of them was very stubborn.  It happened to be in the center of my head by the crown if you will.  She could not get it out.  She tried everything.  Even peanut butter because she read somewhere that could get gum out of dog hair.  Hmmm.  Gum and hot rollers.  I never knew they were in the same category.  I went to Olan Mills with a hot roller stuck smack on the top of my head.  They positioned my brother just so it would not show in the pictures.  The show must go on, my mother said.  Nice.

In seventh grade, my mom bought me a faux fur coat.  It was my new school coat and she really thought it was very stylish for a new, gawky thirteen-year-old.  It was hot pink.  It was hideous. I wore it with my head hanging down.  I tried to wear sunglasses with it.  Did I mention that I rode my bike to school so I got the thrill of being honked at on my ride home?  Nah.  I probably didn’t mention that.  Unfortunately, no one threw any red paint on my coat thus making it unwearable.  I have never forgiven her for this.  Ever.

Yes. This is it. Someone is selling it on Etsy. Good luck with that.

In eighth grade, my mom took me to the orthodontist.  To add insult to my already brace-faced injury, he put me in this fun gadget called a bionator. “This will make more room in your mouth, and it really isn’t that bad,” he said to me.  It is reminiscent of a torture device circa WWII.  A bionator was hastily cemented (yes, really) to the teeth in the top of the mouth and has a special, little key for turning and opening it.  My mom was to insert the key and turn it each week.  On the first “turn of the screw” she accidentally released the key and it went down my throat.  It was never found.  Maybe it was taken out with my gall bladder last year.  Who knows.  This torture gadget caused my speech to sound a little garbled and caused me to spit on people as I spoke to them.  I am sure this is why I had a massive bankroll of friends in eighth grade and why only two of them showed up at my slumber party.  Rock on.

In ninth grade, my mom and the very wise and evil orthodontist decided that the bionator was not working. His suggestion?  Pulling two teeth on the top and two on the bottom and pulling them all together with the already in place braces.  I was the only 14-year-old that could use not one, but two straws without opening my mouth. The orthodontist tried to make me feel better by saying he would wait until next month to put the rubber bands in.  Thanks, dude.  Dating score for me as a freshman?  Zero (unless you could the rubber bands – I mean, they were truly sexy.)

In tenth grade, my mom took me to this amazing, huge and completely confusing outlet mall.  We shopped all day.  At one point, she called me over to look at a dress.  She was holding onto the clothing rack and it turned, hitting me directly in the eye.  I sported a black eye at school for the next few days.  No one would believe me when I said that shopping with my mother is really quite dangerous. They must have forgotten about the obnoxiously bright pink fake fur coat.

Muppets and Hope

Growing up, the Muppets were always there.  My mom would shuffle my brother and I to each and every Muppet movie.  We would sit in the dark theater for two hours with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the entire crazy gang, and for those couple of hours, they were family.

Right before I started seventh grade,  my dad was transferred from St. Louis, Missouri to Red Bank, New Jersey.  My parents, brother and I sadly left the city of the Arch, Cardinals and the mighty Mississippi river and headed East toward the city that never sleeps (Red Bank is nestled within an hour or so train ride to NYC.)  It was a whole new, and scary, world.

Starting school in a new place is daunting.  Believe me – I know this from experience.  As a naive, shy and nervous junior high kid, I was not ready to embark on this journey.  A week after we arrived and two short days before starting a new school, in a new state with zero new friends, my mom hunted down the nearest movie theater.  She rounded up my ten-year-old brother, and put us both in the car.  She didn’t, however, inform us of our destination.  But when she pulled into the theater’s parking lot, we were excited.  It was a good move on my mom’s part.  She knew we all needed an escape from our new environment, and took us to the mecca of escapism – the movie theater.  Guess what was playing?  Ironically it was The Muppets Take Manhattan.

The Muppets in this film were just like us: fish out of water.  They had to overcome the challenges of being and living somewhere new, readjusting to the hardships and confusion of a big move to a big city – a big change if you will.   Thanks to that film in 1984, we knew we could make it with determination and the willpower of Miss Piggy and the gang.  All I can say is thank goodness for the Muppets.

Today, my husband and I took String Bean and Squishy to see the new Muppet Movie.  My mom met us at the theater and we all sat together, heavily buttered popcorn in hand, not quite knowing what to expect.  I mean, it has been a long time since 1984, and my kids are really not too familiar with the Muppets.  The film started, and I was transported back.  I looked over at all three of my dudes and they were mesmerized.  I looked at my mom and was so happy to share yet another Muppet memory with her. I thought about how everything turned out pretty OK in 1984, and how lucky I was to be sitting here with my boys (String Bean is 10 – like my brother was in 1984) enjoying the Muppet show again.

“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.”  Thanks again, Kermit and gang, for once again bringing laughter, and a little hope, into our lives.  Thanks for coming back and allowing my dudes to appreciate you as much as I do.  I look forward to seeing you all again soon.  Wocka, wocka!

Miss Piggy at Hollywood Studios.

Finer Things

Do you remember hearing the Steve Winwood’s The Finer Things song?  Well, it is one of those songs that touches my heart, brings me back to high school and, even, makes me wonder why I would have ever owned a pink unitard.

I did an interpretive dance to this song.  Hopefully, you did not spit out your coffee or choke while reading the last line.  Hence, it is true. I was interpreting that song like it was my job.  To add more sugar to your coffee, I wore a pink unitard.  For dancers, we know that this is an entire body covering, shoulders to ankle leotard.  Sexy?  Not really.  Add in the silver leg warmers, the silver Flashdance belt, and the silver bloomer-type bottoms and you have me circa 1987.  Looking back, I am not proud of the outfit choice, but at that time, I thought it was awesome.

Interpretive dancing aside, I really liked the song.  I heard it first at a church camp I attended called Pennington. When people say church camp is for church and that is the main reason teens want to go, they have never been to church camp.  Church camp is a dating mecca.  Plus, it is a great place to meet new people (aka hot guys) and that is where I met my lifelong friend Erin (who is a guy, by the way).

This morning, The Finer Things song came onto the radio.  Which is strange considering the song was released in 1986 and I wasn’t listening to an 80s channel.  Then I thought, damn that pink unitard and interpretive dance stylings of my younger self.

Sometimes I would like to just be able to groove out again to The Finer Things.  Or, maybe I will just by something cool off of Etsy and call it a finer thing.  Hmmm.  I wonder where that pink unitard is…

Keep shining through

Yes, I grew up in the 80s.

Here goes nothing…

Reasons you know you were in high school during the 80s:

1.  You laugh any time you hear the name Long Duck Dong.

2.  You secretly crave a red Porsche 944.

3.  You know how to put lipstick on without using your hands.

4.  You really want to see the movie Hot Tub Time Machine.

5.  You have caught yourself saying the phrase “Hot Beef Injection” at inappropriate times.

6.  You still think Judd Nelson is cute.

7.  You are thrilled that leggings and slouchy boots are back in style.

8.  When you think of Madonna, you think of a cone bustier.

9.  You saw Tiffany, Debbie Gibson or Jack Wagner in concert and sometimes wonder how they are doing.

10. You are mesmerized by any VH1 specials on the 80s.

11.  You can still sing all the words to every Wham and Duran Duran song.

12. You sometimes wish that pegging pants was still in.

13. You can recite lines from Sixteen Candles and Dirty Dancing.

14. You justify that your hair didn’t look so bad in your senior picture.

15. You listen to XM’s 80s on 8 and get teary that new music just isn’t the same.