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.

The Red Plate

In 2007, my mom, Crazy Pat, bought me one single set of red dishes.  It contained a red plate, red bowl, red teacup and red side plate.  As strange as this sounds, she had a reason for the purchase.

Before I get into the story, I need to fill in a little background on Crazy Pat.  Crazy Pat is very happy 99.999% of the time.  She is someone who, if given the opportunity, would dot each “i” with a heart, and doodle grapes and puppies on any paper within reach.   She is rainbows and roses, and always looks at the bright side of life.

The red plate. A must-have for every household.

She read somewhere about a tradition where for every celebration, the birthday girl, the graduate, the promotion, uses the red plate.  It is the celebration plate.

And she bought me a set.

The red plate has graced our table for different occasions ever since.

When I received Teacher of the Year in 2008 and 2010, the red plate was out and ready to celebrate (and even the subject of the acceptance speech for the 2010 win).

When The Captain celebrated his 45th birthday, the red plate graced the table.  He has requested it to not come out for any more of his birthdays.

When String Bean brought home all As, the red plate revealed itself.

Even when Squishy got his tree on Arbor Day, the red plate came to dinner.

In the summer, the red plate really hasn’t made an entrance onto the sacred kitchen table.  So, in honor of it being Friday, I am going to make a fun plate of appetizers and serve them to everyone on the celebratory red plate.

Red wine. A must-have for Fridays.

Happy Friday.  Time to get out the red plate, grab a glass of red wine and celebrate the arrival of the weekend.  TGIF and cheers to red plates!

The Yes Mom

After watching, for the millionth time, Jim Carrey’s Yes Man, I began thinking about just saying yes to everything for a day.

Interesting prospect.  I just wonder how long it would take for folks to catch on.

Would you like to super size this? Yes.

Would you like to add a rental car with your hotel? Why, yes.

Would you buy me a puppy? Yes, of course.

But, seriously, some issues may arise from this.

At school: Mrs. M., can we leave the classroom and go to our cars and drive around for a while?

Mrs. M., can I be exempt from taking the final exam?

Mrs. M., can you buy me beer? Not gonna happen.

At home: Mommy, can you buy me the Lego Death Star for $499 bucks?

Mommy, can we get a giant boa constrictor?

Mommy, all first graders have a cell phone, so can I get one? Not gonna happen.

Maybe I am not ready to be a Yes Mom just yet… But maybe today, since we are in Walt Disney World, I can be a Yes Mom for one day.

Yes, I think that could work.  Just don’t let my dudes know about it, OK?  😉

The magic of saying yes – for one day!

Field Day is the new Hunger Games

As an elementary kid, I was never too excited about field day.  According to my dad, I was a bit of a girly girl (still am!).

I’d rather be hanging with the daisies.

If there was an event in daisy chain necklace making, I would have won the gold.  If there was an event in skipping while singing, I would have been given a trophy.  If there was an event in twirling in circles until falling down dizzy, I would have received a first place ribbon.  Sadly, none of these options were available when I was in school.

We did have sack potato races, balloon tosses, one-legged races and egg/spoon races.  Those were fun.

At Squishy and String Bean’s school, their field day was much different.  Gone were the sack potatoes.  Vanished were the balloon tosses.  Abandoned were the eggs and spoons.  All were replaced by Olympic style battles fit for Odysseus and a slew of Titans. Or Katniss, her faithful Peeta and all of the psycho warriors from District 1.

Kid’s organized sports have nothing on Field Day.

As for preparing for the exclusive Field Day, there has been extensive training in gym class.  For the last month (I am not kidding) there have been time trials, practice races, and even qualifying heats.  With all of the suspense surrounding the day, both dudes were anxious and a little concerned about their events.  Who can blame them?  Training for the summer Olympics sounds vaguely similar to the festivities known as Field Day.

“Mom, you have to pack us water bottles for field day tomorrow.  It is going to be hot and we may get dehydrated,” he stated as if he was a pediatrician.

“OK.  Gotcha.  Anything else you need to get through these mighty games?” I asked, without a hint of sarcasm.

“We need to bring our best to the field,” he said.  I wondered if I let him watch Percy Jackson too often.

Field Day is serious business.

Next year’s Field Day dress code.

Prior to the start of the extreme games fun, as all of the students are gathered outside gripping their water bottles, an announcement came on the PA informing the students of the intricate procedures.  Maybe all of the important items were scattered around the cornucopia or something.

The static voice resembled something like, “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.” Oops – not really.  More like, “Off to the races we go!”

And, with that, String Bean and Squishy were both sacrificed for the games.

The lone ribbon.

After school, there were long faces.  There was only one ribbon given to my dudes.  It was the magical Participation ribbon that only first and second graders receive.  Wise fourth grade String Bean, tired from the exhausting day and discouraged from being ribbonless, dismissed himself to the basement to play on the iPad.  His parting words as he melted down the steps were of the final PA announcement that said, “Congratulations to the winners, and better luck next year to everyone else.”

Squishy lagged behind and, in his first grade humor, regaled tales of his success in the tug-of-war.

“Did you get a ribbon for tug-of-war?” I asked him.

“Nope.  But we were the champs!” he exclaimed, “And I was the reason we won because I was in the back of the line and used my massive muscles to pull the other side down.”

Triumph.

“Why didn’t you get a ribbon?” I inquired.

“Hmmm,” he pondered, “We really didn’t need a ribbon.  Our teacher told us we were awesome and gave us a hug.  That was better than a stupid ribbon,” he said with a big smile on his face.

“I agree, Squishy, I agree.”

Until next year when the games resume again.

True triumph.  Almost better than a daisy chain necklace.  May the odds ever be in your favor.

The (Extremely Short) Case of the Chocolate Easter Bunny

There was a chocolate bunny filled with wonderful peanut butter.  He sat on my kitchen counter for over a week.

He stared at me.  His chocolate, lifeless eyes would bore into my soul every time I passed by.  He would not relent.

My diet said that I was not to go near him.  I was not to make eye contact with him, and I was not allowed to check on his whereabouts.  I had to stay away.

Believe me. There is nothing fluffy or cuddly about this bunny.

But I couldn’t.  He kept taunting me with his knowing smile and his perky ears.  He would not leave me alone.  He was a demon bunny encased in a glowing, glittering pink box.  He was relentless.

I had to ignore him.  I needed a strong dose of willpower stat.

He kept staring and I began pacing the room.  Homework took over.  I didn’t have to look over and see the glaring, evil bunny, only help with homework.  But I could still feel his magnetic pull like a moth to a flame.

The next thing I knew, he was gone.  He had disappeared and I was happy, oh so happy.

I went about my day relieved until The Captain asked me to look in the trash can.

Glancing into the round bin I noticed the glowing, glittering pink box sans bunny.

“Do you know who may have eaten this bunny?”  The Captain asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t know for sure,” I answered coyly, “But I am positive he is in a better place.”  And with that, I licked my lips and left the room.

Goodbye, bunny from Hell.  I win.

If I Only Had a Clone

Remember the movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton?  Over the past two weeks, I know why he embraced the philosophy of having many clones.

I would like just one clone.  Stat.

It has been unbelievably busy lately.  I mean non-stop busy.  I have decided the way that would have been the easiest would be to have a clone.

Many me.

I would have my clone take my place as National Honor Society adviser.  I could have celebrated with the newly members while my clone could have eased the pains and wiped the tears of the 15 who did not get in.

I would have my clone go to Walmart.  I hate going there, and it is almost a festival of clones there anyhow.  I would have hung out and read books with Squishy or played String Bean in a round of Mario Kart.

I would have my clone sit through long meetings.  She could sit there, smiling at all the information that would have been better off in an email while I would get my copies ready for the morning’s classes.

I would have my clone fix technology for everyone.  My clone could go and fix a computer for two hours while I ventured to the park for a nice walk.

I would have my clone conference with String Bean’s teacher.  My clone may be better at this than I am because she would not be so frustrated.  I would get a massage – to calm down, of course.

I would have my clone grade freshmen English persuasive essays.  I would give her a purple pen (it is less threatening) and have her go to town.  She would not feel pained as the students leave the classroom and dump the carefully graded essays in the garbage after glancing briefly at the score.

I would have my clone go bathing suit shopping.  She could have the honor of trying on a variety of suits and finding the perfect one all while standing under harsh, fluorescent lights.  I would sit and read  Stephen King’s new novel on my Kindle.

I would have my clone update my Facebook, reply to text messages, fetch my lunch, get allergy shots, pay bills, go shopping, feed the dogs, clean my closet and pretty much do everything that has piled up from The Captain’s musical and break.  During this time, I would have been able to write on my much-neglected blog.

If I only had a clone.

Spider-Man, Superheroes and Me

I love superheroes and I love superhero movies.  I get excited about the new ones ready to grace the silver screen.

Apparently, this is strange for an almost 40 year old woman to clap and cheer in a movie theater when a trailer for The Avengers comes on. According to The Captain, it is very embarrassing for an almost 40-year-old woman to react “strongly” at a clip of a superhero movie.  Cranky Captain.

Basically, The Captain thinks my love of superheroes is somewhat strange.

Underwear that was fun to wear. Photo from Wikipedia.org

I blame my brother.  He had the coolest superhero stuff when we were kids.  He had tons of action figures.  He had a red cape that was as majestic to me as a holiday Barbie.  He had it all.  He also had these super cool Underoos with various comic book characters on them.  There was a Batman pair, a Robin pair, a Superman pair, and, of course, a Spider-Man pair.  The girl’s Underoos basically stunk.  They only had flowers or butterflies on them or, sometimes, the elusive Wonder Woman pair would be found at Target or Venture and my mom would pick those up for me.  But sadly, there were barely any other superhero ones for girls.  Later I found that the makers of Underoos realized there was, in fact, a solid girl’s market and began making Supergirl, Princess Leia, and even Batgirl ones.  Wish I had those… Bummer.

Here he is. Photo credit: film.com

I blame my mom.  My mom, Crazy Pat, took us to all of the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve.  I was riveted.  I would sit there, barely even touching my popcorn, as I watched the man in red and blue save the day.  I may have even teared up when Superman was thrown into the Coke sign in Times Square.  I was so thankful when he got himself out of that mess.

I blame Batman.  In high school, I was the best girl to take to the movies.  I was more than willing to sit through all of the Batman movies (Val Kilmer, if you are out there in blog land, you were and always will be my favorite Batman).

I blame Marvel Comics.  They created the Amazing Spider-Man, which happen to be my favorite of all the supers.  It could happen, right?  It could be marginally possible, right?  A regular dude could be bitten by a radioactive spider and develop super powers could be, right?  Well, maybe not, but that may be a small reason why love the Spider-Man movies.  The other reason?  Tobey Maguire makes a very convincing Spidey.  And when the Spider-Man movies are on TV, even though I own them all, I am drawn to them like a fly to a web.

Spidey himself. Photo credit: wikipedia.org

So, I anxiously await The Avengers movie.  I am on the edge of my seat about the new Spider-Man film.  And I think I may owe Stan Lee a high five because he is a cool dude.  If only they had some Spider-Man Underoos for me, I would be all set.

Oh, and to The Captain, can I get a “woot woot” and a “hooray” and even a “yee haw” for the new movies?  No?  Oh well.  I will have to send Spider-Man to deal with you.  (Maniacal laugh goes here!)

Open House and the Big Fart

I rushed into open house at Squishy’s elementary school last spring with a sense of trepidation.  It was the middle of our March Madness. First, The Captain was one week from the opening of Thoroughly Modern Millie at his high school (he directed, I choreographed).  Also, spring baseball had started for both boys, and finally, all three of the dudes I live with were in rehearsal for the Wizard of Oz.  Needless to say, I was a human taxi cab and the Open House became one of four stops that evening.

After finding a place to park (because this is not easy on Open House evening), I finally had the chance to get a good look at Squishy.  He had chocolate ice cream all down the front of his white Life is Good t-shirt.  Awesome.

“Squishy, did Grandma really have to give you ice cream the second before I picked you up?” I asked as I took his incredibly sticky hand in mine.

“Mom, I wanted it and she gave it to me. Geez.  I was hungry, but now I want a Star Wars book from the book fair and a brownie,” he replied, quite sure of his goals for the Open House.

“I don’t think so,” I said as we continued through the door.

Squishy dropped my hand and ran down the hall like lightening.  I was hustling behind him, bumping into the massive herd of parents in the hallway.

“Wait up,” I called to him, as I tried to put on a very fake “I have everything under control and my life is really a dream” smile for the parents who turned their heads to look at me.

“I am trying to catch up with you, sweetheart!” I stated to him in an as pleasant as I could get, sing-song voice.

“Mom, you are so slow,” he hollered down the hallway, “Oh, and I farted.  Safety!”

Awesome.  Now my kindergartener has yelled “fart” across a crowed hallway.

But it gets better.  It always does.  A guy I dated for a long while BC – Before Captain, Before Children – was standing nearby with his absolutely beautiful, poster-like family.  And he was smirking.  Did I mention it always gets better?

My fake smile turned into gritted teeth.  My posture changed to that of a wild animal.  My hair turned into the snakes of Medusa.  I smirked back while briskly walking by and said, “Hi there.  Gotta catch up with my little man!”

Secretly, I kind of hoped that the fart would linger and bring the idyllic family to its knees.  That would be awesome.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. This photo was taken at the open house.

Chewbacca and the Love of Dogs

Chewbacca was a Wookie.  I think of this every time I think of my dogs.  They remind me of Chewie – brave, loving, loyal and smarter than others give them credit for.

Me circa 1980 with my sister, Perky.

During my entire childhood, we always had dogs.  When I was born, there was a child before me.  Her name was Perky and she was a Shetland Sheepdog.  She was beautiful, and I had the pleasure of having a wise, kind, older dog sibling.

After my brother was born, my parents got another Sheltie.  Her name was Little Bit.  She had a little bit of an under bite, which Crazy Pat (my mom) said disqualified her from being shown around Houston, but she was the sprightliest dog around.  I would dress her up and call her Bitsy, Itsy Bitsy or Nugget.  She was hilarious.

Bitsy (closest to camera) and Perky.

She would follow my brother and I all over the neighborhood as we rode our impressive Big Wheels.  Bitsy would chase us when we moved to bikes and sit longingly on the porch watching us when we left with friends.  We were never without Little Bit.

Growing up with dogs was a must.  Unfortunately, humans usually end up outliving these amazing animals.  Perky passed away when I was 14, and Little Bit soon followed – less than a month later.

We were without dogs for two years.  It was miserable.

CJ, or Cajun. The best dog ever.

Luckily, my grandfather, who was a dog guy himself, sent us the perfect gift.  He put a little Sheltie puppy on a plane from New Orleans to Cleveland.  This was the sweetest little dog – who we fondly named Cajun, or CJ for short.  CJ was, like most Shelties, full of personality, spunk and herding skills.  He was the best dog, and continuously herded me away from some crappy boyfriends. By the time I graduated from high school, CJ was not only a sibling to me, he was my protector.  He was just as smart as most of my guy friends and much more empathetic.  He was a peach.

Romy, post Christmas lights.

At the end of my time in college, my best friend Callie gave me a golden retriever puppy.  We named him Romeo because he was such a love.  He showed us how much he cared by eating an entire strand of Christmas lights, and pooping on certain people’s shoes (including one dude I had a huge crush on – had being the operative word here).  After graduation, it was me and Romy (I shorted his name a touch) against the world.  Once, when a boyfriend broke up with me, Romy lifted his leg on the guy’s spanking-new car’s tire.  Ahhh, the good old days.

As Roman (this is what The Captain called him) aged, The Captain gave me an anniversary present – another golden.  We named her Lucy, although secretly I called her (and still do) Lucifer.  She was a maniac.  Of course, by this time, Romy was up in age – almost 9 – and all of his insane youth was well forgotten.

Lucy, aka Lucifer. She is a sweetie. Most days.

Lucy and I would go rounds.  She didn’t want to go to the bathroom outside, she didn’t want to sleep in the crate, she didn’t want to be alone for one minute.  It was quite a nightmare training her.  And she was strong, so taking her to dog training class was a complete and utter horror.  I gained a lot of upper body strength training Lucy.  Finally, Lucy settled down, and Roman, sadly, did not make it past age 11.  Lucy was alone for three years.

My daughter, Maisy.

And then came Maisy.  Here is a link to how I persuaded The Captain to go for another dog.  Maisy is a Havanese.  She is a fluffy, prissy little thing and oh, so charming.  She is my alter-ego.  If I was a dog, I would be Maisy – fuzzy, vocal and right next to whoever would give me a special snack or attention.  She is a doll, as am I.  😉

My dad still has dogs.  Two rescue dogs that are vivacious little critters.  We Facetime and get to speak to the dogs.  It is quite a treat.

The Captain’s family was also a dog family.  They always had a pooch, but usually not by design.  They didn’t visit the breeder or check the newspaper for certain dogs.  They were given dogs that were older or couldn’t be placed in a normal home.  One interesting story is of a toy poodle they were given named Jacques.  Apparently, The Captain and his brother, Coach, were fond of making Jacques crazy.  They would taunt this poor dog, who would growl at them and snap at them.  But the dog closest to the in-laws’ hearts was named Mabel.  The in-laws, let’s call them The Legend and Salt, lost this special dog last year.  Mabel, who we fondly referred to as The Captain’s sister, lived a long life.  The Legend took it hard.  He became the Soup Nazi (Seinfeld) about dogs.  I would ask him, “Hey, how about looking at a new dog?”  His reply, “Grrr, no dogs for you!”

My father believes in getting back on the horse, and this is not just because he lives in Texas.  He has loved and lost animals that were close to his heart, but he always finds room in his heart to accept a new dog – not as a replacement, but as a new companion.  I, too, feel this is important.   So I pushed the issue with my in-laws.

Chewie, the newest dog addition.

The Captain warned me not to do this, but I had to.  They had to have a new dog.  They both could use a special buddy.  They needed a pal to wag their tale and welcome them every morning.  So, I went on a quest to find them a great friend.  And I succeeded.  A male Havanese who looks like Chewbacca.  He could be a miniature Wookie. It was time to get back on the horse, so to speak.  And the best part?  They named him Chewie.  Oh yes.  Han Solo would be proud.

Chewbacca was a Wookie, and the in-laws are happy.  Love those dogs, and may the force be with you.  With dogs, that is.

When Children Learn to Read

Or, what really happens now that my children are reading.

My seven-year-old, Squishy, loves to read.  He is at the point where he reads everything. He will read over my shoulder.  He will read labels.  He will read t-shirts.  He will read basically anything.

There is a fun print my sister-in-law gave The Captain for his birthday.  He likes to make (and drink) martinis.  Squishy now knows how to: 1.  Say martini and 2. Spell martini.

Squishy has become a reading machine.

He also likes to read over my shoulder while I am on my Kindle.

“Mom, what the crap is wrong with this lady?”

“What lady?” I ask, “and don’t say crap.”

“The lady in your book named Anne.  She is a freak.”

I am reading about Anne Boleyn.  “She is not a freak, Squishy, she just had some issues.”

“Like what?” he asks as I wonder briefly how far to take this.

“She was married to a famous king of England and it didn’t end well for her,” I strategically answered.

“Why?  Is his name Henry?”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“I read it over your shoulder,” he grinned triumphantly, “See ya, I am going outside, OK Mom?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I answered.

Yesterday, heading for a quick grocery store stop, Squishy said, “Mom, the truck next to us has a bad word on a sticker.”

“What does it say?” I asked, trying to navigate through the zillion traffic lights in our small town.

“Will I get in trouble if I say it?” he asked.

“Just read it to me,” I said, with the patience and kindness of a women with mild road rage.

“Bad ass,” he said, “It says bad ass.  Why is he a bad ass, Mom?  He doesn’t look like a bad ass.”

“OK,” I said, using the mom voice, “You can stop saying it now.”

“Well, he doesn’t look like one anyway…Hey, Mom, the sign over there says not to text and drive.  And that one says the service begins at 10, and that one says…”  And so on, and so on.

I think I may need that martini.  Stat.