HOLIDAY SIDE EFFECTS

For those who read A Pain in the Neck, you will understand that there is no possible way to take five prescriptions without there being some side effects. Mine range from heart burn, nausea, blurred vision, slurred speech, hallucinations, drowsiness, and a sudden desire to be crafty. As in MAKE CRAFTS.

It all began when Derek arrived home on Tuesday from Mizzou. I knew he was home because he’d parked the car in the driveway which makes it impossible for me to drive UP the driveway and pull into the garage. Austin arrived Wednesday. Once the boys are here, the world revolves around football. Wait, I take that back. Whether the boys are here or not, the world revolves around football. College football.

Despite the drug cocktail, I knew I was licked. As I tossed back a Valium with a glass of Chardonnay I had a brilliant idea. It normally takes a wild pack of dogs to get the boys to bring the trusty artificial tree out of the garage and set it up. This time, I would motivate them in a way they’d never expect.

“Guess what we’re going to do this year with the Christmas tree?” I asked the three statues in the den whose eyes were focused on the TWO television screens that were maniacally playing marching band music as inane announcers solemnly intoned, “They’re really going to have to come out in this next half and take control of the ball or they’re going to lose this game.”

Obviously riveted by this insightful commentary, I tried the dazed trio again. With an enthusiastic holiday frenzy I did not feel I enthused, “You’ll never guess!”

Sigh. “We’re going to forget all about those precious, handmade Christmas ornaments my late grandmother made from SCRATCH and INSTEAD have a football themed Christmas tree. Mizzou, Baylor – all the schools that accepted my sometimes under-achieving yet personable men (including Robert’s TCU) would be represented. Alabama would also be included by default as it is “grandfathered” in. (For a formal ruling, please contact Ralph Holt.) NOW I had their attention. For about 30 seconds.

“Cool.”

“But how?”

“Is this a trick?”

Indeed. How I was going to carry this off was anybody’s guess, but when you’re a Valium and a painkiller into the day, the details just tend to take care of themselves. First, the color theme. We needed to incorporate black and gold, green and gold, deep red and white, and purple and white? Or black? Whatever.

I didn’t even have to Google or Pinterest to know I would have trouble with the black Christmas ornaments. I did the only thing that made sense. I left the house the next morning before the boys were awake and made my way to Michaels.

I still had no plan. Michaels is no place to be without a plan. I headed for the Christmas ornaments, elbowed an adorable gay couple out of my way, and found packages of eight for 50% off. (50% off ornaments, not gays.) I quickly scooped up red, purple, white, green and opted to pick up a couple of packages of clear ornaments as well. In order to destroy the clear glass, I grabbed a can of glossy black spray paint and a nifty glitter spray called “twilight.” A few glitter pens of gold, silver, white, platinum, black and handsful of red, silver and gold letter stickers signaled the end of the shopping trip – until I spotted thick wire-edged ribbon in red, gold and purple. Because you just never know.

I returned home and spread my bounty on the dining room table. Then, I strung the clear glass ball ornaments in the garage and began to spray paint like there was no tomorrow. (And before Robert could come out and tell me I was doing it wrong/and or was going to blow myself up.)

Back at the dining table, a Christmas miracle happened. Derek and Austin pulled up chairs and began “crafting” right along with me. It took us HOURS, and some creative slogans, but I can honestly say it was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve spent with them in ages. The best part about it was we weren’t really DOING anything. There was no TV. Derek played some Christmas music, and we just CHATTED. Truly, I thought they’d drift in and out as I did the work, but they were right there the whole way. We laughed, we encouraged each other, we helped each other spell challenging words like “Missouri.”

Who’d have thought I’d be hosting a Christmas ornament decoration committee with my 20+-year-old boys? For proof, lest it actually be one of those hallucinations mentioned earlier, I have evidence.

Derek and Austin “crafting.”

Christmas miracle number two? By the time I got home from errands this morning, the tree was up and lit. The two TVs were still in place – or out of place – but every miracle comes with a price.

I have no idea how the tree will actually look, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s our first tree to make as a family. I’m just sorry it was overdue. I’ll post pictures when complete. In the meantime…

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Update: I was pleased to see the boys insisted on adding some of Grandma’s old ornaments. I guess those little felt and sequined ornaments remind them of their childhoods as well.

Now, if we can only find a Heisman Trophy replica to place on top of the tree, we can all burn in hell together.

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OH, THE DRAMA

Today’s LetsBlogOff topic is: What did you want to be when you grew up?

I can tell you this sincerely. I NEVER said to anyone during my childhood, “What I want to be when I grow up is a marketing person for an architecture and interior design firm,  because there I will find appreciation, encouragement and respect.” I’m still not sure how I got here. But that’s another topic entirely.

Growing up with a father people referred to as a “creative genius” made me want to follow his happy footsteps into the advertising industry, which I did for about 12 years, writing and producing TV and radio commercials. One of my earliest jobs required that I go to an office each day by 9:00 AM to view soap operas. (I’m not kidding. This was a real job.) A TV was perched above my computer screen, and I would watch the CBS soaps with headphones on as two other girls watched ABC and NBC. We would type a summary of each show and hand the copy off to a voice talent before the next show began. The voice talent would record each synopsis, and as this was before everyone had internet, or a DVR, or knew how to reliably set their VHS, people who had missed their soap would call a 900 number and pay 99 cents a minute to hear what happened. Insane, right?

BEST. JOB. EVER.

I watched The Young and the Restless, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and the Bold and the Beautiful. I think I’m missing one… that’s what happens to your brain after subjecting it to that much drama every day.

To earn extra money, I volunteered to do the same thing for Falcon Crest and Dallas in the evening. It was fun to write the copy and insert a little “wink” here and there. It was impossible NOT to get a little tongue-in-cheek about it.

I guess at some point between that early job and the following work on actual commercials I realized what I REALLY wanted to be was a writer. Writing for me is that THING people tell you about. The “Whatever it is you find yourself doing when you’re putting off work is what you should be doing with your life,” thing. It’s like breathing.

Ideally, I would have started this blog years ago when the stepsons were 9 and 12 and providing constant material, but my big plan to be the Erma Bombeck of stepmothers didn’t pan out. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t put the right amount of distance between the observation and the situation to really enjoy it. The ability to laugh came later, with maturity, and the surrender of sanity. So, no book deal, no movie, no big interview on Letterman. Or Oprah.

For now I have to say goodbye to the imaginary vacation house named
“What’s-Your Pointe” I would purchase with the proceeds from my best-selling novel,
“Not Genetically Responsible.” (T-shirts and bumper stickers sold separately.)

Sigh.

But, thanks to the people who read these occasional posts, in a small way, I am what I wanted to be when I grew up.

To see what others in the #LetsBlogOff wanted to be, click the logo. And enjoy!

WHAT CAN GO WRONG

Back in my previous life as a producer of TV commercials, part of my job was to anticipate any potential disasters that could occur on the day of the shoot and be prepared with a solution. As a natural worrier, I was really quite good at this. I spent much of my life imagining the disaster ahead, so getting paid for it was a plus. I don’t think of my attitude as pessimistic, I think of it as preventative. You see, from the earliest days as a producer I learned if I was prepared for it, it didn’t happen. It was almost a game. Had I thought of absolutely everything that could go wrong? Yes, plus some. Did I have a solution? Yes. Did anything I’d planned for go wrong? No.

Sometimes OTHER things went wrong that I hadn’t considered. But it was usually something we managed to fix on the fly, with no real damage. So why didn’t the really scary stuff happen? Because I had imagined the worst and was prepared. I’m sure of it.

Following this “Worry about it, have a plan, and it definitely won’t happen” rationale, I will present a few of the things I fear:

  1. Stepsons will finish college (or not), be unable to find employment, will return home to live on my couch watching TV too loudly for the rest of my natural life. In the end, I will die in the living room and they will simply step over me (if I’m lucky) for the next few months until neighbors complain about the smell. (A little extreme, but you get the drift.)
  2. At least one of my stepsons will make me a grandmother in the next 5-10 years. (In which case #1 now includes a daughter-in-law and baby.)
  3. I will never have enough savings to retire, and instead will be the oldest marketing director on record in an office where the average age is 30. I will be referred to with alarming frequency as “Ann-tique.”
  4. Barbra Streisand will move next door to me.
  5. I will never be 100% pain free again. No neck pain, carpal tunnel, back ache or muscle spasms. (Sometimes, I swear, my hair hurts.)
  6. My husband will leave me for his girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson.
  7. My husband will NOT leave me for his girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson.
  8. I will be at a fancy hotel walking through the lobby and a pair of underwear will fall out of my pant leg. (Oh, wait. That DID happen. At the Ritz.)
  9. That more and more, people will ask who is the eldest – my brother or me. (For the record, he’s 4 years older.)
  10. Did I mention that grandmother thing? Yeah. That is TERRIFYING.

Don’t get me wrong. I worry about bigger issues than these. Family, friends, terrorists, economy, the government… But I can’t control (or try to control) absolutely everything, no matter how much I’d like to.

So from here on out, you people are on your own.

Except for family and friends. You still scare me.

GRADUATION DAZE

In two weeks, my youngest stepson is graduating from high school. I feel Jurassic. This is the kid that was 9 when his dad and I married. I amused myself with the idea of people exclaiming, “You can’t possibly have a 9-year-old!” The truth was, I could easily have had a 9-year-old at that time; and a 12-year-old. Which is good, because that’s what I got. Full time 24×7 motherhood to a couple of boys who had little recent experience living with a woman. Especially a demanding, impatient woman with high expectations and a zero tolerance policy.

Poor things. I think we all suffered culture shock, and I’m not sure we ever got over it. But somehow we all muddled through. His older brother, Derek, is at Missouri, finishing his sophomore year. That brilliant “only for special occasions” brain is finally seeing daylight. He’s going to knock their socks off.

Austin thinks he’ll stick around next year and attend community college to get some basics completed. His father and I are not complaining. I never imagined myself suffering from empty-nest syndrome. Frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t been counting the days in anticipation of a house that has no dishes in the sink, no cabinet doors left open, and my sodas still in the fridge when I want one.

Instead, I remember those little boys on the wedding day in their tuxes. Their dad’s best men. I remember how Austin turned green and nearly fainted during the ceremony. (I TOLD him not to lock his knees.) I think about the times I forced them to watch old movies with me, or listen to my running commentary during the Academy Awards. School concerts and sporting events. Meetings with principals (too many) and teachers (way too many). Then there were the groundings, celebratory dinners and funerals.

It’s been a busy 8 years. So busy, in fact, I probably haven’t told them I think they’re amazing.

Best men, indeed.

AND THE DIAGNOSIS IS…

This whole post may be in bad taste. That said, I was on the phone with my mother yesterday and she was telling me a friend’s daughter had been diagnosed with some sort of mini-seizures. Apparently, the child may have had them for years but no one noticed until recently. From somewhere in the recesses of my brain I supplied the name of the condition. Petit mal seizures. Mom was impressed. So was I. Good news! My brain is not as pickled as I thought.

I googled “petit mal seizure” and read through the symptoms. Eureka! It is very possible my stepsons have had this problem all along, and I too, missed it. (Lord knows I tested them for everything else – ADD, ADHD, autism, depression, dyslexia…) The diagnosis came back the same every time: They’re boys.

I am only half-joking when I say the symptoms could easily be attributed to either of my “steps” AND to most teenagers of my acquaintance.

Symptoms include:
1. The person stops walking or talking mid-sentence. (I always thought they just lost interest.)
2. Hand fumbling. (Don’t get me started.)
3. Fluttering eyelids. (That’s usually the “tell” that they’re conscious.)
4. Lip smacking. (Only after eating cookies.)
5. Chewing. (I assume this is without food involved, so that’s a no.)
6. Staring episodes. (Both these kids space out all the time. I think they are either sleeping with their eyes open, or imagining what their lives will be like once we are dead and they inherit all our flat screens.)
7. Lack of awareness. ( They have both been unaware that sound travels since I first met them. Unaware that they are blocking the TV when standing 6 inches in front of it, and unaware that the refrigerator door does not close itself behind them.)
8. Sudden halt in conscious activity. (One of the boys once left the car parked and running, with the door hanging wide open for several hours until a neighbor called to let us know.)

I will hold out hope they will be miraculously cured upon reaching their mid to late 20s. But I’m not placing any bets. Their father still exhibits symptoms 1, 6 and 8.

Symptoms description from MedlinePlus.

CLEAN UP! THE MAID IS COMING!

I had a maid when I was single and living in a two-bedroom apartment. She came once every two weeks. I was completely spoiled. Then I got married and moved in with my husband and my stepsons who were 9 and 12 at the time. Much to my husband’s dismay (he’d never had a maid before) I brought Atilana as part of the deal. Every two weeks she would come to dig us out of the unsightly mess we had created. Laundry was the main selling point for a man with two boys who changed clothes as many times a day as Anne Hathaway hosting the Oscars. The super-great amazing thing about MY maid, is that she actually washes clothes, irons and / or folds them and puts them away. Ask around.  There aren’t many who will do more than maybe shift your already washed clothes from the washer to the drier.

With joyful hearts, the husband and boys anticipated the maid’s bi-monthly arrival. What they did not understand was the preparation that goes into having a maid. The night before Atilana was scheduled to clean, I would clear off counter tops, start a load of laundry, lay out fresh sheets for the bed, take out a load of trash, force the boys to put all their clothes that were on the floor into the laundry basket, and straighten their desks. To the mystified men in my life this was completely insane when in just 12 short hours, a maid would be arriving who needed something to do. I, on the other hand, wanted to make certain we didn’t frighten the maid away with our disaster area. 9 and 12-year-old boys have serious hygiene deficiencies and an aversion to drawers and closets.

Eight years later I still race around the house muttering “We can’t let her know we LIVE like this!” Sure, to the men it looks as though I am doing the maid’s job, but they don’t realize that under all that major cleaning stuff is the minor cleaning stuff that is even LESS fun. Dusting ceiling fans, blinds and floorboards, cleaning the inside of the fridge, polishing silver, TOILETS. I won’t even go into the inability of a 9 or 12-year-old to take proper aim. To this day, if I threw Cheerios or Fruit Loops in the toilet as targets, I cannot fathom any degree of success. But with luck, my angel of mercy will continue to clean up after all of us.

I know my clean up sessions are not as thorough as they used to be. After all this time she has probably caught on to our imperfections. When someone scrubs your toilets by hand and folds your undies, there probably aren’t a lot of secrets you’re keeping from them. Let’s all agree to stop the pre-cleaning madness. Embrace the disgrace! We need to just give up, admit we are pigs (or live with them) and hand over a little extra cash to assuage our guilt.

Now, hand me the Comet.