Category: Family

Get Your Geek On, Boy!

I long ago stopped buying big traditional gifts for my weedlings. In general, i like to give experiences instead. So this weekend, my son and i are away together at a big comicon. And we’re having a blast!

It was a five hour drive here, about half of it through beautiful mountain towns that we couldn’t see because it was terribly late (But i look forward to seeing them on the ride home!) We drove along listening to comedian Jim Gaffigan and laughing out loud, until the booger fell asleep and i found myself struggling to stay awake. But when i looked sidelong at him, seat laid back, mouth open like a fly trap, hair in his eyes, gently snoring away… I was glad we were making the trip.

We were up bright and early this morning and headed into the city. We lucked out and found convenient and reasonably priced parking – a sure sign of a good day ahead. We gingerly make our way into the acid-dream melee that only a comicon can bring.

Spiderman, Storm Troopers, Xena and Kiki. Maleficient, Pikachu and every single Dr Who. In the main hall, while waiting to enter, Jesus is taking selfies with a Dalek and HarleyQuinn. A nine-foot wookie is holding the hand of a toddler Donatello. A goblin just autographed a book he wrote, and i got to shake Fonzie’s hand. There was an entire family dressed as Borg. And down in the basement is speed-dating for geeks of all persuasions. Only at a comicon.

Watching all the cosplayers, i have decided that next time, if i am not with my son, i WILL dress up. I am destined to play Queen Mab at some large comicon. Skimpy war-fairy dress over platinum corseted ducks, soft silver lace-up thigh boots, stunning metallic wings, some funky pastel contact lenses… I didn’t see any cosplayers that were over college age, so i look at it as a necessary public service. I don’t want the weedlings to think they have to outgrow their outrageousness! But i won’t do it now. My son would be horrified. And i should probably go to the gym first.

We were exhausted by late lunch time, so we headed out to the square looking for good food. Again, we were in luck’s good graces: We happened upon three cops who were on crowd control duty. They directed us to a fantastic hole-in-the-wall pizza joint, where we had a yummy New York style pie (Unexpected in Lexington, KY). Then we found a killer ice cream parlour. We got some scoops and sold the tourist benefits of Chattanooga to the proprietors. Then we did a quick check of our phones.

My oldest is minding SiriDog this weekend. She sent me a video of them out on a walk. As i am watching it and smiling, i say out loud, “Hey, i think she is wearing my bedroom slippers!” Nolan looks up with a quizzical face and asks, “Siri?” “Yes, Goober, the chihuahua is wearing my size 8 slippers.” The proprietors start giggling. Poor kid. I swear, he was so tired that it actually took him a few seconds to realize i was referring to his sister.

We walk around town a bit more, and then head to the car. On the way back to the hotel, we make a pit stop at a public park that the parking attendant recommended. It’s a beautiful day. Sunny, clear-skied, and breezywarm. There are a couple young men fishing, and a few older folk watching out open windows from their cars. We get out and sit on the bank of the lake. I lay back, close my eyes, and enjoy the sun. My main man eats the last of his leftover pizza and then discovers that he is covered in gnats. He screeches like a caricature of a prissy girl and runs back to the car. I don’t bother to tell him i locked the doors. Instead, i watch him do the icky-dance while he waits for me to return. I know it’s wrong, but watching my son do the icky-dance makes me laugh.

Next stop is a local coffee shop near the hotel. I desperately need a proper cup of tea, but accept a London Fog. He gets a frozen mocha concoction. For some reason, we started speaking as Irishmen in the car on the way, and we continue it in the shop. I’m hoping we don’t run  into any true Paddy’s, since i’m sure we only sound authentic to untrained American ears. But it was so much fun. And to be truthful, once you get going, it’s hard to stop. We were in that cafe for over an hour, using aliases and brogues the entire time, and it lingered on for long past. If anyone knew we were faking, they let it slide. And we felt like we were starring in a BBC documentary on horse country, USA. Or a silly prank video on Facebook.

It’s still early here. Barely dinnertime. But we are wiped out and even contemplating skipping supper for early bed. After all, tomorrow is another day of  Wonder Women and Indiana Joneses. Wizards and Zombies. WWF and TMNT. I will get to meet my favorite Star Trek character, buy a Hogwarts school ID,  maybe even get some tips on being a sexy, if older, cosplayer! But best of all, i will get to watch my son smile and laugh and enjoy himself among the other imaginative peoples of the comicon community. The one place in the world where being weird is the norm, and everyone is welcome. So grab a cape and a sidekick and join the party!

*** P.S., If you would, please check out my goblin friend. His blog is hysterical and well worth a visit. I promise!  The Goblin Guy

 

 

 

Sidewalk Preaching

So let me tell you about my son.

He is 13 years old with that “Puberty is almost here” roundness and stench. He has me dye his normally dark brown hair black with a green forelock. He is on the lego robotics team and writes most of their scripts for exhibitions. He gets astoundingly good grades in all his classes, except the two he doesn’t like, where he is in danger of failing. (Gifted, it seems, only when he enjoys a topic.) He is a sugar ‘ho and loves all things sweet: Soda, candy, slushies, ice cream, cake, even jello. He loves comic books, especially Ant Man. In fact, i think he’s a bit infatuated with Ant Man. He lives for computer games. He’s a devotee of Top Gear. He has memorized whole episodes of the Simpsons. He can fake battle with a lightsaber better than Mace Windu himself. He likes Panic at the Disco and FallOut Boy, but can also sing along to my corny music and an impressive array of show tunes. Like most other kids his age, he’s a mixed bag.

On one hand, he is intelligent, adorable, funny and sweet. He’s a seanachie since birth and can tell stories on a whim. Occasionally, the stories are true, but he’ll never tell you which ones aren’t. (For months, our apartment manager thought we were British, because he always spoke with a Brit accent when he went by the office.) He has a beautiful singing voice. A flair for acting. And the kid loves to perform. He can make you laugh without even trying. He’s just naturally funny. He has a great vocabulary and can converse with professors as easily as pre-schoolers. He usually does his chores without much reminding. He knows when and how to hug. He has no social fear, or at least never shows any. And he doesn’t give a flip about what other people think.

On the other hand, he’s messy. His bedroom smells like a long-forgotten gym locker. Every damned pair of pants he puts in the wash have exactly one leg inside out. He will sleep in clothes and wear them the next day. He doesn’t notice when he misses the bowl.  He peppers the apartment with dirty socks as if it’s a damned caeser salad. He scrapes the healthy part of dinner into the trash when i’m not looking. Fresh out of the bath, he still smells like pubescent boy hormones and sweat. He cops a rotten attitude, talks back, and has a terrible temper.

But i still think i did ok with him.

Every now and then he gives me a glimpse of the man he will become. The morals, the compass, the humor, and the love inside him. He shows kindness without thinking, he helps without asking. Or he quips at just the right time. At those moments, i know that, in spite of the anarchy and chaos that is my 13 year old boy, he will be ok in the end.

We had a moment like that the other day. We had a little thing to celebrate, and so went to the park, got ourselves some ice cream floats, and strolled. We came across a street preacher. He had his Bibled hand raised and was shouting fire and brimstone. We’re all going to hell! Homosexuals, inter-racial mixing, and liberal Democrats are paving the way to Hades! Turn away from the abominations! Now, we are not church-going people, but my son stopped as we got closer to the man and said, “You know, maybe i should be a preacher.”

“Son, you generally have to be religious to be a preacher.”

“I’m serious! I can be a preacher. I know what God wants.”

He shoves his float in my hand, says, “Watch this, ” and heads toward the sidewalk corner. Up on the edge he perches and raises his fist.

“Hey, everyone! Listen up! I have a message from God! Seriously! This is important! God wants to tell you something!”

The street preacher stops and stares. A couple passers-bye look up.

“Stop being assholes! Start being nice to each other! That is all.”

He climbs down and takes his float back. “See?” he says.

The street preacher, dumbfounded, departs. A couple people clap. I am speechless at first, but eventually reply, “I don’t know that i would word it quite that way, but i do think you’ve got the gist of it.”

We are both smiling as we walk and sip. Tho others may be horrified, i am swelling with pride. My stinky, messy, green-haired, selectively-gifted, bad-bathroom aiming boy gets it. He gets it. I must have done something right.

Yup, he’ll be just fine.

Jeremy Finds His Sparkly

I’m sitting on my couch waiting for a rat to die. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? And it is, tho not in the way most would imagine.

Jeremy McRatRat is a good little ratty. We knew he wouldn’t live forever, even with a nice, warm home and a healthy diet. When i went into the weedlings’ bedroom this morning, i knew it wasn’t good. The food i left him the night before was still in his bowl. He didn’t hop up when he saw me. And when i reached into pick him up, he whimpered. I think i probably whimpered too.

So i cuddled him up and took him downstairs. I swaddled him in an old, soft blankie. I fed him water off my fingertips when he wouldn’t take any from the bowl. When he wouldn’t eat a treat, i put some pancake syrup on my finger for him to lick off. A few hours later, he is still hanging in there. He is barely moving. Too weak to stand up fully, he scoots himself on occasion to get more comfortable or change position. I wish i could make him feel better, at least for this final part of his journey. It might not have started pretty, but Jeremy eventually had himself a good life.

One of my daughter’s favorite books growing up was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. From the first time i read it to her, she said she would someday have a rat of her own. Fast forward to a dozen years later. My daughter is working on weekends and during the summers now and has a little money of her own. She does her research and picks out a good cage – One with plenty of space. She picks out bedding and researches diet. Then we go to the pet store. There were 2 cages of “fancy” rats, the cute and fluffy ones destined to be pets. On a separate stand were the “feeder” rats, the boring looking ones that were destined to become Nagina’s weekly meal. As my daughter cooed over the fancy rats, her eye kept being drawn to the other cage where a plain heather-brown rat was up on his hind legs staring at her. When she inquired and found that the only difference between the cages was a cuteness factor, she picked him. She also picked a pretty rat who looked more like a pet.

They came home with us in their sturdy cardboard carriers. I don’t think my daughter left her room for 2 days – she sat on her floor and played with them, fed them, gave them treats, until they got used to her. She decided to use names from her favorite story. The pretty rat got named Brisby (Frisby was changed to Brisby in the movie version of the story). She wanted another name from NIMH  for the the plain one, but none seemed to fit. Because he was darker, she went with Jeremy, actually the name of a lovable crow in the book. The two pets had enviable little ratty lives. Food that my daughter custom blended, plenty of time outside the cage to play with her, or just cuddle with her while she was studying. Few rats have it better.

When i decided to sell my house the following fall, the ratties came with us to the apartment. Brisby didn’t take the change too well, and passed on shortly after. I buried him under my chocolate-mint in the garden.

Because we were told rats didn’t do well alone, my daughter didn’t waste any time getting Jeremy a new partner. Ramsay was a sweet little thing, but he didn’t take the change from shop to apartment well at all and died in a few days. He now resides under my hosta.

The next partner was Remi. Remi was an asshole. He was the most handsome of all, but he was grouchy. When i saw one day that he had bitten my daughter bad enough to draw blood, he got released into the woods.

All thru this, Jeremy remained his sweet cuddly self. Rather than attempt another partner right away when we released Remi, we decided to let him be king for a while. Surprisingly, he took to it very well. He liked getting all the attention. And he made a playmate in our chi-mix dog. When he got his out-of-cage time, he and Siri-dog would play for ages like best buddies. It was heartwarming to watch the dog, bred to be a ratter, and her bestie, a common rat, play like kids.

When my daughter went off to college, Jeremy remained in his usual spot. My son likes him and did a good job of keeping him fed and watered. I, however, took on the duty of loving. I picked him up and gave him scritchens every day. At least once a week, i let him out to play with Siri for a few hours. When i could, i’d let him cuddle with me while i read or wrote. I’d long since gotten over the creepiness of holding a rat, but the smell still makes me wrinkle my nose. In spite of that, i made sure he felt the love and security of being a “pet”. Rat or not, he is a member of the family and is treated as such.

He is an interesting bloke, this rat. I’m certain he has a bit of Brit in him because if i leave my tea anywhere low while he is out, i catch him dipping his snout into it and taking a good, long pull. He also has a sweet tooth (Just like his momma, my daughter) and will try to do tricks for a piece of frosted breakfast cereal. He will actually smile for a piece of banana. And a cookie? You can get him to dance a rapture for that!  He definitely knows what’s good in life.

He is also ridiculously smart for a rat with no education. When i let him loose, and it’s time to go back to the cage, all i have to do is call his name, and he appears and sits on my foot. He outsmarts the dog at every turn. He is unfailingly charming, popping up on hind legs for any visitor to his corner. And if you cuddle him close, he will lick you in appreciation. Just a lovable little pet. I hate that he is leaving us. He has shown us so much love and taught us so much.

He taught us that you don’t have to be beautiful or fancy to be lovable. That it’s up to each of us to make playmates of our enemies. That it’s ok to eat your favorite stuff first, as long as you also eat the healthy stuff, too. And he taught us that not all rats are vermin, even if they come from the feeder cage. All of this is true for rats, and true for humans, as well.

I will remember these lessons. I hope you will, too. And when we share these lessons with our grand-weedlings and they ask us how we know these things, we can say in total honesty, “A rat told me so.”

 

He Ain’t Ratty, He’s My Brother…

My daughter’s pet rat, a few times a week, gets an hour or two out of the cage to wander around the apartment. Jeremy Mc RatRat, the rat in question, enjoys this recess and usually spends a lot of it playing with our Chihuahua mix, Siri Eleison. I find this comic, since Chihuahuas are supposed to be ratters, but Siri loves playing with her ratty brother. As i type and watch them play today, i can’t help but smile at their antics.

At first they were playing tag. Siri would chase Jeremy. He’s pretty good at hiding in tiny spaces before she can get to him, but she always eventually does. And then she licks him. He turns around and starts to chase her. They run like frenzied squirrels until Jeremy finally catches up and climbs up on her. Back and forth they go. Over and over. No biting. Just play.

Then they move on to another of their favorite games: Siamese twins. Jeremy gets under Siri and copies her steps as they trek around the apartment. Siri will try to trip him up, changing directions at the last minute or climbing up on things, but Jeremy is a crack player and barely misses a beat. They do this for a while and then take a water break. Siri first, since it’s her bowl. Then Jeremy hikes himself up on hind legs and dips his tiny snout in just like his sister does. It makes me smile, to see him imitate her like this. Like best toddler buddies.

Chronologically, they are toddlers. Siri is maybe 3 years old (We estimate her age because she’s a rescue), and Jeremy is probably a year old. But biologically, their roles are different. In dog years, Siri is in her early 20s. Young and vital and full of energy. In rat years, Jeremy is middle aged. It makes the oomph and vigor he has when playing with Siri even more impressive. He is like a kid when he plays with her, not at all like the sedate snuggler he is when i cuddle him and give him scritchins. At those moments, he appears like a kindly and dotty old granddad. But at playtime, he gives Siri a run for her money and usually tuckers her out.

When one of them, usually Siri, starts to show signs of being tired, i hand out treats. Today, it’s cheeze-its. Jeremy holds his like a giant Wonka bar, nibbling quickly before it gets doggie-snatched. Siri barely chews hers before she swallows like a greedy sow, and then looks to see if she can steal Jeremy’s. And she has. More than once. Just like siblings.

On a rare occasion, they will snuggle together. More often, they will kiss each other while they play. Jeremy is a half pound rat, and Siri weighs 10 pounds, so the sight is like Mutt and Jeff. Once in a blue moon, they get a little overeager and i’ll hear Jeremy squeak. And once, Siri had a suspicious double toothmark on her ear. But considering how long we’ve had them, that’s pretty darned amicable for a rat and a dog.

Ok, i admit that most people wouldn’t let a rat run around their house. I will also admit that when i talk about it, my coworkers start to sing the theme song from the Addams Family. I will even admit that i laugh when they do. But i have to say that it’s pretty cool to see two creatures, enemies by nature, playing like only siblings can. Would that humanity could take a cue from these two and learn to be brothers and sisters instead of rats and Chihuahuas.

Bill Cosby meets The Rifleman

So, today i’m thinking about my Dad. Father’s Day is coming up. And i’m too old to make him a macaroni covered shoebox full of painted pebbles.

Dad has always reminded me more than a little bit of Bill Cosby (Before all the sex allegation stuff). He has the same sense of humor, same fashion sense, same dance moves. But he also reminds me a bit of The Rifleman. He was a cop and then a detective while i was growing up, and i always pictured him as the star of a crime show that only played in my head. And even tho no one else got to watch the crime show, i liked to brag on his stardom. Especially during the times of my life when i didn’t see him much.

Divorce is a rotten thing. Necessary or not, it leaves flotsom and burning oil slicks in its wake. Eventually, the beach may get cleaned, but it is forever altered. I was young when my parents divorced, so i have few memories of my parents as a couple. I don’t remember the beach when it was pristine, or at least unpolluted. And time spent with my dad which was awkward at times, as history has composted the jetsam, has become easier, and the circumstances, more grounded. As we age, hard for both of us to watch and accept, there are things about him that have become sureties for me and my approach to life:

Some things never go out of style. A classic trench coat, leather loafers, pressed shirts, a good haircut. They never fall out of fashion. Men and women both can use this to their advantage. So i always have a few classic pieces. And no man doesn’t look handsome in a shirt and tie… Even if he isn’t a cop, or in uniform, or carrying a service revolver, or wearing a Trooper’s Stetson. Tho those things definitely add a certain je ne sais quoi.

It’s all about the seasoning. My father is a fabulous cook. Especially with food he has caught hunting or fishing. And he rarely uses anything that isn’t found in the common larder. I presume this is from years of taking his turn cooking in the hunting lodge. That being said, because of my dad, my larder always is fully stocked with, for some others, lesser known “necessities” like bay leaves, juniper berries, and Coleman’s dry mustard. Channeling my dad, i can make a roof tile taste like fresh venison.

On a similar note… When in doubt, talk about the food. If you are ever stuck in a social situation with people you know nothing about, it is always a safe ice breaker to engage the others around you into exploring how the meal was prepared. It carries no controversy and can include all ages without special accommodation. It gets the conversation moving in a pleasant and easy way, unless you happen to be seated at a table with the cast of “Chopped”.

Do your research before spending your money. My father was a Consumer Reports advocate before they were well known. Because of him, before i make a purchase, especially a bigger one, i make a list of what i want and don’t want and then check it on as many “unbiased” reviews as i can. And i actually read the narratives, because their caveat may be my making or breaking point. It has saved me from many an expensive mistake. And it has kept me, more than once, from regrettable impulse purchases.

If you don’t know how to dance to it, go for the soft shuffle. In my mind’s eye, i can see my dad dancing. His lips nearly mouthing his dance mantra, “Disco here, dis go there.” It may not be the right dance. You may be outdated. You may feel silly. You will definitely look goofy. But you’ll be cute and you’ll have fun.

Learn to be comfortable in formal situations. My dad has always been a member of organizations that had requisite formal occasions. It helped inspire me to do the same. In my time in the IORG, i learned how to comport myself in a long gown, speak in front of crowds, address any station. Because of all this, as i got older and got into music, i had an easier time than most singing and performing on stage. When i have met Heads of State and Sheiks, i was not a ball of nerves. I can, with very little sweat, speak off the cuff in front of large groups. And, in probably more of an adaptation than he would have liked, i bought a tux and found it to be the perfect formalwear, enabling me to relax and enjoy something that many people dread. I suppose it’s a strange thing to take pride in, but i’ve always patted myself a bit for that inherited ability to do “Uptown” without fret. Just like my dad.

On road trips, be prepared. Gather your repair kit, your snacks, your maps. Know your route, plan your stops, and take frequent breaks. Yes, i suppose this is a typical “Dad” lesson, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I have taken three day long road trips on my own, and carried with me the knowledge that i was well prepared. It makes a difference. Without the fear and stress of the unknown, the trip becomes much more enjoyable.

Never refuse a cookie that someone has made. It doesn’t matter if it looks like an old buffalo pattie, if you stuffed yourself to the gills at supper, or if you need to be out the door in 5 minutes… Handmade cookies are small tokens of love. Someone took the time to make them. Even if they taste like turpentine-cured hockey pucks, you can stomach just one to let them know you appreciate it. That little smile and “thank you” may be the highlight of their day. And if it is my dad offering you one of his chocolate chip cookies, take a few. They are the best.

Three things require careful cleaning with use: Your kitchen knives, your leather shoes, and your gun. My earliest memories are of my dad cleaning his gun and shining his shoes. The attention he gave to those chores was special, somewhat because of theory behind it, but also because it was a kind of zen thing. Yes, the care of those things is required to keep them in good working order and to make them last. But the repetitive actions of a true shoe shine, the scents and tactile sensations of cleaning a handgun, the sounds of a knife being slid perfectly against a honing steel… They are almost meditative. And they force one to slow down for a moment. Take a break. And still have something to show for it.

“Real men” are still men, even in a pink shirt. My dad looks great in a pink dress shirt. He and i have enjoyed visits to a formal tea room. He has let the other player win. I have seen tears in his eyes. He plays with his fluffy little foo-foo dog. And he has done these things with ownership, unworried about what other men thought or if society frowned on them. Or at least, that is how he carries himself. And that carriage, that posture of doing the softer things with assurance, THAT is what makes a “real man”. Not the color of his shirt. Not the force of his blow. Not the bulk of his bank account. Not the size of his sidearm. It’s the demeanor, the bearing, the manners. A “real man” is a gentleman. Every time i forget this, i regret it. I end up on a date with a caveman.

Some of the best American inventions came from New Haven. My dad has Connecticut pride. A true Nutmegger thru and thru. And he can give you good reasons why his area of The Constitution State is the best. The cotton gin, the first American submarine, the automatic revolver, the phone book and public pay phone, the corkscrew, the lollipop, the hamburger, the erector set, the Frisbee, and the wiffle ball were all invented there. Paul Giamatti, Ernest Borgnine, Norman Lear, Al Capp, Eli Whitney, Charles Goodyear, The Carpenters, Liz Phair, Michael Bolton (Ok, we might want to forget that one)… They are all from the New Haven area. And contrary to what New Yorkers will tell you, American-style pizza was invented there. At Pepe’s. No matter what else you have heard. Really.

When in town, say hello. Even if you don’t have time for a visit, make a quick phone call to let your local ones know that you’re thinking of them. I never used to understand this as a child, but as an adult, there was an older woman, a family friend, who would stop at the house twice a year as she passed thru. Literally for less than an hour. But those quick visits, little more than a cup of tea and a hug, were something i always looked forward to. They made me feel special. And Dad’s advice was finally understood.

Take the time to pick out the perfect card. It is easy to stop by the drugstore and pick out a generic birthday greeting. But i don’t do it. One of my favorite things about my dad is that his cards are always special. They always say just the right thing. They aren’t the kind of card you glance over and toss. You want those sentiments to linger, so sweet and magnanimous are they, that you keep it propped on your bureau til the next one arrives. Yes, it’s a little thing. But also a big thing. Time is a precious commodity, sometimes even more so than money; so knowing he took that time to find something that makes me feel good means a lot. I try to give that same attention to others.

Different people teach us different things. Some are full of emotional wisdom, others are more practical. Like many Dads, mine leans more towards the practical. There are, of course, other things i have learned from him, but these are a few of the more pronounced in my memory. Father’s Day seems like a good reason to write them. It’s not as sweet as a macaroni covered shoebox, but maybe it’s a decent substitute. Now, if you’ll pardon me, i have to go card hunting….

 

Humor Me, My Child

Walking in Target today, my eldest weedling turns to me and says, “My teabag has burst.” In the context of can opener shopping, this didn’t make any sense, so i asked her to repeat it. “I’m pretty sure my teabag has burst.” Now i have to assume that this is slang, probably for something disgusting. I start to respond, “I……”, but i am at a loss for words as the possibilities of what this could mean zip thru my head like a squirrel on diet pills. Seeing my confusion, she proceeds to tell me that to keep her combat boots – her daily foot attire- from stinking, she placed an herbal teabag in each one that morning. Then proceeded to wear them.

I have no non-flippant response to this, so i move on.

Later, when we are at the car, she removes her boot, and sure enough, a flurry of twigs and leaves flies out into the wind like an elvish  treasure. Then she plucks a pathetic looking bit of sticky paper, the teabag itself, from her sole and resets her boot. I am thinking that if i tried to explain this situation to one of my international friends, they would think it a mis-translation. I can’t help myself. I chuckle til i snort.

My weedlings make me laugh. Sometimes unintentionally, but most often not. They each have a wonderful sense of the absurd. The oldest has a talent for off-the-cuff song lyrics that can pull a giggle out of thin air. The middle is the master of the sarcastic response. The youngest is truly gifted with a pun. And when i say that our home is often filled with us singing, i mean it literally. My son and i do a fantastic version of the Underdog theme, complete with harmony. And under the tutelage of my oldest, we have a song and dance routine that mimics the insanity of navigating a crowded airplane aisle. We frequently go about our household chores quoting movie lines back and forth. And all the while, we are laughing.

Humor is an underrated virtue. In the face of sadness, of stress, of tragedy, and sickness; humor can bring relief, even if it isn’t socially acceptable. After tough days, sometimes all i need is to hear my son sing. On especially disastrous days, it may take watching Llamas With Hats with my daughters to get my breathing back to normal. But they never fail to bring about that improvement. Not just for me, but for everyone around them. After all, the best humor is universal.

Italians tell stories of passion. the Irish tell stories of laughter. Since we are both, my children and i can make you laugh with a passion. And we relish in it. We love to give that gift. To relieve the pressure. To render the darkness insignificant. We have that power. No, we are not alone in our ability… There are so many who possess the same superpower. But i’d put my weedlings up against any of them to run neck and neck. They have it. And they know how to use it.

My weedlings do a funny schtick that is an imitation of me trying to balance, unsuccessfully, a pitcher of water from a dinner half a year back. The next time you are feeling down, ask them to recount it. Or ask my middle daughter to do “The Evil Giraffe”. Or ask my oldest to tell you what lights up and blinks. Or, if it’s been the worst day ever, my son and i will sing “Underdog” for you. I promise it will make you feel better. And in the process of helping you, we will feel better, too. Because, really, what improves your day more than making someone else smile?

Misty

Johnny Mathis is playing in the background. I set it to play. On purpose. Because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. And my Ma is Johnny Mathis’ music. So on this weekend every year, i take some time to listen to him croon and think back to the better memories i have of her. Aaaaahhhhhhh… “Chances are, ‘cuz i wear a silly grin….” There are other things that remind me of Ma: The unmistakable scent of Aliage, Easter peeps, antique shops… But nothing draws me straight to memories of her like Johnny Mathis. He was her favorite, so to me, he reeks of nostalgia.

My Ma wasn’t perfect. In fact, at times she was a train wreck. When i was younger and less understanding, i harbored secret stashes of poisoned anger. But as i’ve aged and become aware of my own frailties and failures, it is easier to step around the black tar and concentrate on the patches of green grass that grew, if sporadically, theatrically fabulous. Both the oily sludge and the fragrant lawn offer lessons, but given that it’s Mother’s Day, i’ll let the cool blades tickle my toes and leave the sticky, smelly gunk to my therapist. Contained within the emerald sod are lessons that i have taken to heart. These things are as pure Ma as “The Twelfth of Never”.

Even if you are on your last dime and have little to your name, share with others. Ma would literally give the coat off her back or her last slice of bread to any soul who needed it. Didn’t matter if they were King Arthur or a fallen addict. Ma would invite them to the table. She’d make them a pallet or offer them the couch. They became family and were treated as such. This proved, more than once, not to be the smartest move for safety or security; but it was indisputably the truest move for her heart. I can’t come close to her example, i’m far too cautious with who i open to. But i do try to take the idea to heart.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. If some new ethnic food set up shop in town, Ma was one of the first customers. It could be rumored that they were slaughtering raccoons for the meat in the stew, the Health Department could have given them a stack of warnings, and Ma would give it a shot anyway. New, exotic fruit in the produce section? She might not know what to do with it, but she’d buy one and figure it out. If a Martian landed in the back yard and offered a pulsating, radioactive sandwich, Ma would take a bite. She loved new taste sensations. The adventure of it was thrilling to her. That thrill lives on in me the same way. The simple act of a new food experience brings such joy, if you let it.

When confronted with a person of difference, help them accentuate their own personal positive. I remember one evening long ago, i was dressed in a black plastic jumpsuit, ass-kicking boots, slicked hair, with a spider web painted on my face, ready to go dancing at the club. Ma took one look at me and frowned. But instead of telling me i looked like an idiot or that plastic didn’t constitute “clothing”, she told me that my spider wasn’t glittery enough. We washed my face, and she spent half an hour painting me a new web… complete with a stunning, sparkly spider making its way down my cheek. And as she did so, in her own version of “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”, she told me that there was no shame in being a freak, as long as i was the best freak i could be. I need to OWN my freakiness. Make that spider so damned beautiful that no one could dare tell me it didn’t belong there. That philosophy has worked for me and my weedlings. When we make choices outside the norm, we make them decisively. We own them. And we dare anyone to tell us we’re wrong.

The other side of that token: Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Or rather, when you feel you are wrong. My idea of wrong and yours may not be the same. But if i feel i have screwed up, i try to say so and fix what i can. It isn’t easy. In fact, it sucks. I do a lot of stuff wrong. That makes for an awful lot of apologies. But a clear conscience is a valuable reward. Only differing opinions on whether i am wrong make it difficult. Well, that and expecting other people to do the same.

No one is beyond hope. No drug addict, no alcoholic, no -ic of any kind is so far gone that they don’t have a chance at being a free soul. Everyone has a monkey or two on their back. Don’t judge the monkey and don’t assume it is chained there permanently. Have faith. I watched my Ma shed King Kong himself, so i know that it is possible. You don’t have to be the zookeeper, but don’t be afraid to offer an encouraging word. Words can build foundations of determination, and that determination helps in sedating the primates long enough to pull them off.

God moves mountains, but he expects you to bring a shovel and help dig. Faith gives you strength, but action gives you results. No amount of prayer will get the war won, but fighting without a higher purpose will gain you nothing. It is no simple task sometimes to combine these two things, but it’s the only way to reach the goal. It is made easier when you surround yourself with people who do the same. Then you can help each other dig and the mountain gets moved all the faster.

Be yourself. Even during the darkest of times, Ma was always Ma. Authentic. True. There was no Diva Ma, no Bitchy Ma, no Charming Ma. There was just Ma. One could argue that there was Drunken Ma and Sober Ma, but even between those two masks, she was still Ma. Still herself. I never had the foresight to ask her if she really was that comfortable being herself, or if it was a “fake it ’til you make it” kind of thing. But whatever the reason, it showed me that there is a certain comfort in predictable authenticity. Both for oneself and for others. The masses may not adore you, but they know and can bank on what to expect from you
at any moment. Life becomes much easier for everyone.

Are these lessons the ones i should have taken from her? Are these the types of things that make Mother’s Day worthwhile? “It’s Not For Me to Say”. But so much of me is derived from Ma. A lot good. Some, not so much. And that’s ok. It makes me, well, me. And that, my friends, is “Wonderful! Wonderful! Oh, so wonderful my loves!”