As I opened the book which held the poetry I wrote as a teenager, pages which I had painstakingly typed out over and over on my mother's typewriter until they were devoid of misspellings, the title page I had placed in the front brought back a very distinct memory of a defining moment in my life.
My English teacher, Mr. Spade, presented us with an assignment. We were to find a classic book by an American author to read and present to the class. I groaned. I despised reading for any reason apart from my own enjoyment and was not looking forward to the project. I walked to the city library and asked for some recommendations. The first book out of the librarian's mouth was "Thoreau's Walden" so I checked it out, brought it home and set it on my dresser, never even cracking the cover to read a word until almost 2 weeks later when I was given the date for my presentation.
I remember sitting in the small alcove beneath the stairs across from our apartment, my own quiet place for reading and writing, and beginning to read Thoreau's words. Initially I was frustrated because the words did not flow in a way I was accustomed to, the language required more thinking on my part. But as I progressed through the story of this man's escape from civilization, I became fascinated. And when I read these lines, something in me changed:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I read over these words countless times, each time realizing that I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more. I wanted not only to live, but to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" as Thoreau had described.
I began to search out those around me who seemed to live life to the fullest - happy people who lived with determination and purpose - people who I wanted to emulate. I would question whether my actions were truly a reflection of myself or of just trying to fit in. I eventually learned to do and be and live in a way that I was comfortable with myself and the things that made me who I was. I learned to let go of many inhibitions which kept me in a shell and became a happy, passionate, more outgoing young woman.
Most people who know me today do not know the quiet, shy young girl that I used to be. They are often surprised when I even speak of times when I was awkward and introverted. To me, this is a measure of my success.
This is how we usually decorate our house for Halloween each year.
But for this year... nothing.
We decided to use the time required for set-up towards installing a fence instead - something we've wanted for 12 years. So to make it up to our kids we've done a few other things to keep the Halloween spirit alive this year; one of these things was promising the 4 oldest kids a trip to the Haunted Forest. Allen and the 3 oldest kids had gone last year and came back with stories using the phrases 'totally freaked me out' and 'scared me half to death' which pretty much cemented in my brain that I would never have any desire to see it for myself. I mean, seriously, who PAYS for fear? Not me.
Until this year.
After numerous pleadings that I HAD to come and how it would be SO much more fun to go with someone who had never been, I caved. I live to please.
I had been to Knott's Scary Farm in California enough times as a teenager to know that the spooks and creepers can see fear in your face and that's when they target you. So my plan was to never look them in the eye.
Every creeper in that blasted Haunted Forest swarmed around me like I was the last piece of chocolate in a bowl of Halloween candy. And I didn't have to look at them... they would just breathe on the back of my head and I'd get the shivers and then they'd smell the fear oozing out of every inch of my body and follow me around relentlessly.
Can you say FREAKED. ME. OUT?!
Did it matter that I knew it was just a bunch of teenage boys for hire under those masks and cloaks? No. There is something about the whole atmosphere of a place that can dispel any words I had used to convince myself I could handle this.
Big 9 foot tall masked oxen? Gave me goosebumps. (made me scream) Freaky cloaked ax-bearer? Stalked me. Twice. (made me scream) Creepy clowns? Made me jump. (made me scream) White-masked chainsaw-wielders? MADE. ME. SCREAM. And that's the embarrassing part. I could not stop screaming! I would tell myself how ridiculous it was for a 37-year-old woman to be screaming at every turn in this blasted forest and to STOP IT RIGHT NOW but I couldn't listen to myself! Those stupid creepers made every last bit of common sense just disappear from my brain and I could not help being petrified.
When we finally escaped the maze I was exhausted. Every inch of my frame had been tensed up for the better part of an hour and I just needed to sleep. The next day I was aching as if I had done some strenuous sort of exercise the night before. But I will admit - in a strange way, it was a great time. Because who pays for fear? Me. And everything that was endured at night always looks better when you analyze it in the light of day.
For those of you who enjoy our home each Halloween, don't despair... next year we're going all out with some new features you haven't seen before - as well as a full-blown spook alley. And the best thing? At our house, no one pays for fear.
(Note: To protect the children in the following story, I will give them non-gender names. They are referred to as Kid 1 and Kid 2.)
Yesterday was our church's Primary Program, which is the day when all of the kids pretty much take over the main meeting (under the direction of a few adults) with songs and talks. Needless to say, it's pretty much my favorite day at church of the entire year.
My cute class had seats right smack in the front of the congregation so that everyone could enjoy their 5-year-old antics, but I don't think anyone enjoyed them as much as I did.
As the whole group began to sing the first song, I sang along with exaggerated mouth movements in an attempt to help my class remember the words. This only resulted in their making exaggerated mouth movements as well, which made me laugh. And then they laughed. So I stopped doing it, because I am the mature adult here.
During one of the longer talks that was given, one of my little students began to pick their nose. I would shake my head and give Kid 1 disapproving looks and Kid 1 would simply avoid eye contact and continue to dig. One of my other students noticed my expression and looked over to see what was happening just as Kid 1 examined the treasure on the end of his/her finger, deemed it good enough and inserted it into his/her mouth. "Gwoss!" Kid 2 said, chastising Kid 1. The nose-picker simply shrugged, unfazed.
At one point, Kid 2 began to grow restless. Kid 2 tried sitting on his/her hands and playing with his/her neighbor's clothing before settling on feeling around beneath his/her chair. I saw what was happening but could do nothing about it. Kid 2 began to pull some gum off of the bottom of the chair. I looked at Kid 2 and mouthed, "YUCK" and "NO" but he/she had already worked the gum free and was showing it to me. "This was un-doe my chay-o!" he/she whispered, showing me a sticky greenish-blue blob. "Put it back," I responded quietly, and then turned my attention to the song being sung. When I looked at Kid 2 again, he/she was happily chewing something. Something sticky. Something greenish-blue.
Who is the 'gwoss' one now? I wondered silently, smiling.
So besides the uplift I received from the musical numbers and words spoken, my class had provided me with an unexpected bit of comic relief as well.
...and I couldn't help but think, really? Is that sign seriously necessary?
I mean, I'll be the first to admit that we live in a conservative state. And I know that I live in a city where the local university is constantly recognized for their squeaky clean image.
I tried to imagine what would necessitate posting such a sign, and here is the story that grew in my head...
Two roommates from the local squeaky-clean university have been asked to bring something to drink to a dorm party. The theme for the party is: Autumn. The roommates run into W-Mart and peruse the drink aisle for something autumnish, to no avail. And then, behold! At the end of the carbonated beverages aisle there is an end-cap filled with pretty yellow drinks called: C0r0na Extra.
One roomie says to the other: "Oh, my heck! These drinks are so perfect! The yellow color of them totally makes me think of autumn stuff! And bottles are so much cooler than cans! What do you think?" Then roomie number two says: "Heck-to-the-yes! We are so totally buying these pretty yellow drinks with the name C0r0na Extra! It sounds way exotic and plus it says Extra and that is my favorite kind of gum!"
So the roommates show up at the dorm party and arrange their pretty autumn-yellow colored drinks in a huge tub full of ice and everyone says, "NO WAY! How did you find drinks that are totally the color of yellow autumn leaves?! On a scale of 1 to 10 these drinks rank like a 34 for our autumn theme!"
And then the Dorm Mom walks in and says, "OH MY GOSH WHO BROUGHT ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES TO THE DORM PARTY?!" And the room is suddenly silent.
When Dorm Mom finds out where the drinks were purchased she calls W-Mart to give them the what-for and she is convincing enough that they post a sign.
But you know what? I would LOVE to hear what you think happened.
Roughly 70 years ago my Grandma and Grandpa met. My grandmother was a single mother, raising her children (including my dad) during the Great Depression when she and Grandpa fell in love. Not only did he fall in love with Grandma, he fell in love with her children. So he did what came naturally - he adopted them and they became his children as well.
Almost 40 years ago my parents met. My mom was a single mother, raising 2 kids on her own. She and my dad met and fell in love. Not only did Dad fall in love with Mom, but he often told us of how he instantly fell in love with her two children. So he did what made them all happy - he married mom and adopted my older brother and sister.
Over six years ago my brother Chip and his wife, who were not able to have kids on their own, opened their hearts to the sweetest little boy with the biggest chocolate brown eyes as his foster parents. In December of 2003 he became their son through adoption. In subsequent years they were able to adopt 3 beautiful little girls who were initially placed with them through foster care.
Four years ago, two of my favorite people got married. My brother-in-law, Daren and his wife, Shannon were the first to declare that they wanted to have more children than my mother-in-law's 16. After a few years they discovered that they could not have children on their own. They were heartbroken, but turned to adoption. And yesterday, they posted this:
And so, this post may not be what I had planned to write for today, and it may not be what you would expect to read here, but I can think of nothing else. I am filled to the brim with an awesome sense of happiness, love, excitement and hope.
I am overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunities available through adoption in my past, present and future.
They are opportunities which have helped to make dreams come true.
Yes, my pal Debi & I are goofing off, but we actually dressed like this for a trip to the mall. I wish I was kidding.
Awhile back a friend of mine posted a letter to her 16-year-old self. I have debated since then what I would write in a letter to my teenage self. Once I get past the advice on 'there's more to life than boys' and 'put a little more effort in at school', all that is left is fashion advice. And OH MY LANDS did I need it at times.
Dearest Teenage Gerb,
Hey there. It's me, 37 year-old Gerb, and I've got something to say, so I'm just going to say it. Some of your clothing choices scare me a little. Don't get me wrong, I still admire your love for finding unique thrift store items and wearing them proudly. But honestly, Gerb, some of your match-ups are frightening. I think it may have started with what you wore your first day of high school. We both know that was not your fault, that you were simply following the advice of someone you trusted, but those Levis should have been washed at least 20 times before you actually wore them in public... and that white t-shirt with the huge, puffy, green Gumby on it? It still makes me shudder.
I'm fairly certain that that was the day you decided not to care what anyone else thought about your clothes. It was easier to pretend you didn't care than to be visibly hurt by the pointing fingers and barely stifled giggles of the girls who enjoyed hurting others to somehow elevate their own self-esteem. This is when you were struck with the fact that you didn't seem to fit in anywhere. And so you came back with a vengeance, deciding to mock the cookie-cutter girls with your outlandishly unique looks.
As much as I admire you for dressing in one-of-a-kind styles, there are a few things that I would advise against ever wearing again. For example, long underwear knee-length cut-offs beneath short skirts just look kind of trashy. And cut-off shorts with thigh-high lace nylons are definitely not the right look for you. They portray the wrong message... and that message is not "I am unique".
Eventually you will tone down some and take your fashion in another direction. I'm not sure what to call the days when you would wear the clothes that the boys you were interested in were wearing, but again I need to say that this is really not you. Besides that - they are boy's clothes and you are a girl. Wearing the same brands as the surfer boys won't make them notice you. Being yourself will. Don't be afraid to be feminine. Remember that sort of psychadelic 60's dress you found at Goodwill, the one you pictured yourself wearing with lime green tights and your white suede slouch boots? The one you didn't buy because it wasn't baggy enough to hide your lack of shape? You are going to remember that dress for the rest of your life because you didn't buy it. That dress was unique, tasteful and feminine. It was a perfect expression of YOU.
I also remember a dress that you did buy, another that you will always remember. It's a hideous, white, sleeveless thing, all covered in frilly lace. You will buy it because of peer pressure and at FULL price. I know, you can't believe such a thing, but it's true. You will buy it because it is just the dress that the friend you will be shopping with would want and she will convince you that it's perfect for you so that she can later borrow it. And you'll look at pictures of yourself in that dress for years to come and wonder what possessed you to ever buy such a silly thing. At full price. Don't wear things that you know in your gut do not portray who you are or what you like.
The good news is that eventually you will come to a point where you embrace your uniqueness and, at the same time, not be afraid to conform to what others like when it is something that you are also fond of. You will learn to find balance. You will become comfortable with who you are and what you wear.
And don't worry, we'll have a talk about boys later.
I have been blessed with many super, great, amazing, wonderful (insert every happy adjective here) friends in my life, but over time I have realized that the best of them all is the one my parents gave me when I was 19 months old... my little brother.
Growing up, people were constantly amazed that we got along so well. Some even asked if we were twins because we shared a special sibling bond. It didn't matter if I had hair like a boy or teeth like Laura Ingalls Wilder, he was always right there by my side, a friend through it all.
When I spend time with Chip, I can totally be myself at a completely different comfort level than I can be at with anyone else. There are no secrets, nothing to hide - because he already knows it all. I can bring up topics from kids to food to education to poverty to shopping and he takes it all in with complete interest. I never have to watch what I say or worry about offending him. If he or I bring up a topic that the other doesn't care to discuss, we can say so and move on with no hurt feelings.
Because we were raised in the same environment, the same culture, we agree on most things. And who doesn't like someone who agrees with them most of the time?
Chip is also one of the only people I am comfortable crying in front of. He's seen my ugly, scrunched up, blotchy red crying face and it doesn't faze him one iota.
We laugh, we cry, we sing, we dance. We get animated and talk with our hands when we're passionate about something. We know the words to every theme song and commercial jingle from the late 70's and early 80's and feel perfectly justified in random acts of performing them for and with each other.
Best of all, I can let out a nice belch after downing a carbonated beverage and he doesn't even blink. I mean, we used to have contests in that regard when growing up, so big whoop if one slips out in the middle of a conversation. If it's a really spectacular one, I may even be complimented with a casual, "Nice one!" before the banter continues.
(Not that I ever burp anymore. But if I did, that's how it would probably be...)
Regardless of any of that, the point of all this was simply to say that I could not ask for a better brother and friend.
And for that, I count myself as lucky.
Happy birthday, little brother. I have always been proud to be known as "Chip's Sister."
Have you heard of minute mysteries? My kids go through stages where they love these things. I pretty much always think they're ridiculous because they are so open-ended that anything could be the answer.
Here's an example of a minute-mystery conversation in our house:
Kids: Hey, mom... Bob is a delivery man who is in a hurry. He's coming up on a railroad crossing as the barriers start lowering. He won't make it past before they close, but he doesn't have time to stop. What does he do?
Me: He crashes through the barriers.
Me: How do you know? Were you there?
Kids: That's just not the right answer, mom.
Me: Why not? It makes sense.
Kids: Just keep asking questions and you'll get it.
Me: (exasperated sigh) Does he hit the train?
Me: See? He crashes through the barriers without hitting the train. I win. Kids: (rolling eyes) Whatever, mom.
Actually, today I have a few minute mysteries of my own to stump my kids with...
1. As some kids are leaving for school their mother asks them, "Did you make your beds?" "YES!" they all shout in unison, but when the mother goes to check, the beds are unmade. How is this so?
2. A woman puts a load of laundry into the washing machine, carefully checking that all socks have a match before putting them inside. By the time she carries the basket full of clean laundry upstairs, 3 socks are missing. Where are the missing socks?
3. The basement of a family's home has pictures drawn in Sharpie or crayon on every wall. When the parents ask who made these drawings every child responds with, "Not me." There is no one named Not Me living in the house. Who drew on the walls?
4. When a mother asks her kids if they would like a cookie, they all respond immediately. But when she asks if they have finished their homework or if they could help her with the dishes, no one seems to hear her. What is the cause of this phenomenon?
5. While searching for missing car keys beneath her couch cushions, a woman finds a candy bar wrapper, 4 popsicle sticks and some popcorn. No one is allowed to eat in the room where the couch is, so where did these items come from?
I can't wait to hear their answers.
And in case you were still trying to figure it out, Bob was the train driver.
I'll be the first to admit that music is a powerful force in my life. I'm sure there are others out there who would agree that music has a way of inspiring which words alone cannot. There are certain songs that speak to my heart, others that seem to have discovered a portion of my soul and set it to chords, harmony and euphony of sound. When I hear a familiar melody, I must sing along. And besides that, music puts a little spring in my step that I simply cannot control.
Like when I'm at the grocery store, for instance.
Can anyone honestly expect me to suppress the urge to dance when I hear Celebration playing through the overhead speakers? My cart becomes my partner as we bust a move down Aisle 9. Or what about hearing the strains of American Pie played from the store radio, just beckoning me to sing along? Grocery store music is the best; it's almost like starring in my very own musical.
And speaking of musicals, don't you feel just a little bit disappointed that real life is not that way? I mean, can you imagine the pure awesomeness of people just randomly breaking out in choreographed song and dance at any given place or time? Grocery stores, bus stops, classrooms, traffic jams... imagine the possibilities!
(link to clip of "That's How You Know" from Enchanted)
I am a firm believer that this is what heaven will be like. On that note, if heaven truly does conform to each person’s vision of what it should be, then in my heaven we will all be performing a celestial musical upon the most puffy, milky-white clouds you've ever seen - each and every one of us soaring... flying... and (wait for it...) breakin' free.
('Cause there's not a star in heaven that we can't reach.)
Thanks so much for all of your well-wishes after my last post. Here's a quick update that's a bit more specific...
My 'adopted mom' had a brain tumor. It was successfully removed on Tuesday and we are awaiting results from the tumor's biopsy which are hopefully coming today. So far everything looks wonderful and mom is doing great. She actually seems just like herself - talking, walking and eating on her own.
My posts for the next few days will likely be sporadic as I do not have regular access to an internet connection. However, a nurse was kind enough to let me in on a little-known place on the third floor where I could publish this today. This post was composed in the earliest hours of this morning.
Sleep eludes me as I sit in this distant hospital room. All around me is silent except for the rythmic breathing from the bed beside me. I am lost in thought.
I am reminded of so many wonderful wonderful childhood memories over these last few days - memories of times past which bring me much happiness. Yet one memory seems to stand out among them all today; it is the memory of confetti.
Julz and I first met in the Bay Village apartments on the corner of Anza and Spencer. We were both quiet, shy young girls who enjoyed devouring good books. I do not recall the exact circumstances which led to our meeting but I will never forget the subsequent years which made us inseparable.
There was the summer that we took turns reading from Stephen King's IT until we were both so completely petrified that we could hardly walk near a sewer grate without the hairs on the back of our necks standing on end. Or the times we would drive endlessly back and forth on the local beach's esplenade in my parent's brown van, hoping to catch a glimpse of certain persons of the male persuasion. We would occasionally hang out with the nighttime crew from Albertson's grocery store or spend late nights just playing Pictionary and laughing at Julie's kitchen table. And these memories are just the beginning.
There were also the nights for confetti.
One integral aspect of our friendship was that it was so much more than just that. Friendship does not quite describe the association between Julie and I over the years. Somewhere amidst those late nights and laughter we became family.
It was not uncommon for Julie and I to have late-night cravings. We habitually wanted fresh donut holes or tall, cold milkshakes but we were not yet old enough to drive. This is where Julie's mom came in. She was always more than happy to get us to our destination - sometimes even when the rest of the world seemed to be asleep. We would wake her, make our request, then off we'd go to Dunkin' Donuts or Norm's at 3:00 a.m. We would return home and need another player for a round of Win, Lose or Draw and Julie's mom would happily step in and join us. These days are where the division between my life and Julie's began to meld and before I knew it I had a new sister and another mother.
Before the days that either of us could drive Julz and I would spend weeks at a time on the floor of her bedroom, cross-legged, cutting large pieces of colored paper into small pieces of colored paper, filling garbage sacks with millions of little treasures as we spoke in eager anticipation of the Big Confetti Day.
I will always remember how comfortable I felt in Julie's little apartment. I could talk to her and her mom about anything and everything. Julie's mom was always happy to teach me any of life's lessons that I didn't quite understand or needed some help with. They noticed when I was in need or struggling and offered helping hands, loving embraces, and of course there was always the food. Grilled cheese sandwiches, home-fried chicken, make-your-own-microwave-burritos, there was never any shortage of vittles. When I was at Julie's I was fed... and I was fed. Nourishment for the body and soul. And that's how it has always been.
When the Big Day came, Julie and I would sit, crouched, behind the bus stop in front of Bay Village. The veil of darkness would help disguise us from the view of occasional cars which would speed down the street. When the coast was clear, we would dash onto the road and scatter a few bags of our homemade confetti all over the intersection, laughing out loud, then run back to the shelter of the bus stop and wait expectantly for the show to begin. As the next car would come speeding past, the air currents would grab the tiny shreds of paper and throw them into the air, a rainbow of color cascading in all directions, whisked every which way; a paper rain-shower in shades of pastel and white littering the street with a surprising beauty - a sight to behold and worth every hour spent creating our spontaneous street party.
Last weekend I received unexpected and difficult news. My husband, understanding this extension of my family, encouraged me to fly 'home' for a visit. For hours here we have talked, laughed, reminisced and been fed. And now, here I sit in mom's hospital room, the dark earliest-morning before the Big Day, in anxious anticipation. I do not know what tomorrow will bring for my 'adopted mother', but I have had opportunity to gather up many colorful memories and recollections. And this morning I am scattering them about, hoping that this evening brings news that is cause for celebration. But regardless of what the day has in store, for me there will always be the splendor of the swirling, colorful confetti.