Sunday, July 29, 2012

You Look Mauve-a-lous!

It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s sandal weather and I had banged the pudding out of my big toenail. Not only had I bruised my toe, but my sweet, summer, strappy, sandals would have to sit lost and forlorn in the back of my closet until my nail healed. After two days of close-toed shoes, I had it. I slapped a Band-Aid on my toe and slid my foot into my favorite brown and bronze summer sandals. I wasn’t feeling it. The Band-Aid wound up sticking to the shoe, or sliding on my toe. Friction and Band-Aids don’t work well together. What’s a girl to do?

I slapped paint on the toenail, but it looked like a “Honey-I shrunk the big toenail” kind of thing. You know, great big toe…little bitty nail. That’s when I wound up on the nail care aisle of Wal-Mart. Never go alone when your toes don’t look their best, get a friend to keep you company and talk you down when you start looking at the false-toenail collection. You really need intervention in a weakened state. I, in all my foot vanity was ready to try it for the sake of pretty feet, enhancing pretty sandals. It’s not that I have a foot fetish or anything like that, it’s just that all my life shoes have been the one constant. They are only item of size that has remained the same size since high school. I have a lot of shoes.

I slipped into the house, snuck my false toenails into the bathroom like some kind of X-rated contraband, and proceeded to read the instructions. “Find the size that fits your nail bed best, gently file the top of your nail to allow for bonding with the new nail, open the nail glue squeezing out a small dab, and press nail on top of your natural nail. No one will know the difference!”  Sounded easy enough. It took me three tries, and a lot of nail polish remover to unstick my index finger from my big toe, but I finally found the correct size nail and had that sucker stuck to my toe like it belonged there. I shaped it, filed it and painted all my nails a pretty mauve, and the next day wore my strappy sandals without a care.

I marveled at the staying power of these nails. Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite particular about clean feet and nails. It’s my OCD. I kept checking on the nail, making sure that my own was not damaged in any way and was still healing. All was well. We all headed out the door to our next outing, me and my little family. My daughter looked lovely, my son looked handsome in his pressed button down shirt and khakis, the hubby was sharp as usual, and I was sporting my best wedges with the peek-a-boo toe.

It all went wrong in the middle of the church service. I actually heard a “Ping!” I really don’t think I’m over dramatizing when I say that mauve is such a lovely color when the jeweled tones of a stain glassed window shimmer over it. My mind went blank. My son looked down, my daughter’s eyes were the size of high-beam headlights, and all I could think was, “How do I pick this thing up without attracting attention?” Yes, in the middle of the sermon, my nail had flown the coup, skipped the light fantastic and landed in the middle of our aisle.
My son reached down with a lightening hand before I could say a word and YELLED, “This is a nail!” Then he said, in an extremely loud voice, “It’s your nail Mama!”

I grabbed it away as quickly as I could only for him plead, “Let me look at your nail Mama!” My daughter muttered under her breath, “Oh gross.”  If the floor could have opened up and swallowed her, she would have been fine with it. I had crossed the sacred line and embarrassed my teenager in public. It’s actually what I live for, but usually not in this particular fashion. Anyway, I struggled for composure, but just as we were about to bow our heads in silent prayer, it hit me.

I made the mistake of glancing over at my husband and I realized that he hadn’t missed a thing. I started shaking and trying in desperation not to laugh out loud. My husband had to actually turn away and my son kept asking “What’s so funny?” My teen girl looked more and more mortified and my shoulders shook harder from silent mirth. You know how it is; you’re in church for goodness sake! Here I sat at the age of 52 and I was shaking with glee in church like an adolescent. My kids have lost privileges for less, but I couldn’t help myself. It was funny. So it was a cheerful “AMEN!” that erupted from my lips at the end of prayer. I figure God was teaching me a lesson where vanity was concerned, and that a joyful noise can be found where we least expect it!

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Mama and the Sister-Lady

The box of photographs fell to the floor when I bumped into the cedar chest. I had promised to have all the pictures scanned long ago. They are the last links to our past lives, other than each other, my brother, my sisters and I. Each photo has a memory tucked inside it, waiting for one of us to tell. I leaned over to swipe the pile back into the box, to get them out of sight before I was distracted by them and their stories, but it was too late.

A pixie face in a nun’s wimple peaked up at me, as if admonishing me not to be in such a hurry to bury the past. Sister Margaret Marie, my Mama’s buddy and my second grade teacher, was staring at me from a Suburban School photo. Suburban came to Sacred Heart Elementary every year to chronicle our lives. My mother taught kindergarten there, and we have a progression of photos from her years of teaching. Sister Margaret Marie had signed the back of her photo, “To Anna, Ain’t we something!” Just like that, I remembered my mother and her, heads together, two school girls in teachers’ guise, planning trouble.

It was right after school and I was looking for my mother’s car, hoping I could go to my “cool” sister Regina’s apartment. Mama wasn’t in her car but on the steps of the convent with her head down, listening to Sister Margaret Marie. Sister Margaret barely hit five feet in height and was the shape of a rubber ball, rosy cheeked with a few wisps of salt and pepper hair just sticking out from her wimple. She and Mama were grinning like loons and I knew something was up. Turned out we were going to run an “errand” that entailed eating Chinese food at three o’clock in the afternoon.

That was a first. I never had Chinese food, let alone gone to a restaurant with a nun. It was one of many firsts. One Saturday, Mama wasn’t home and when she did walk in she was wearing a cover up and a bathing suit. Mama didn’t take off and go sunbathing. In fact, Mama didn’t take off at all. I was a little off balance, and my feeling of vertigo doubled when she told us all about the day she spent with the “sisters.”  Someone had lent their house for the day for the teachers at the Cathedral to “let their hair down.” I was only vaguely aware that nuns were people, let alone that they could let their hair down. This was in the very late sixties, early seventies at best. I was a tow-headed kid who couldn’t stop talking, but the story Mama told us that day had me speechless.

“Did you know Sister Catherine Regina used to be a Rockette?” Mama was breathless. “She dove into the pool and it was like poetry, and then here comes Margaret Marie (Whoa, wait a minute, my Mom was on a first name basis with a nun!), and she just runs like a maniac towards the pool and yells ‘CANNONBALL!’ and torpedoed into the pool!”  My mind was reeling, nuns that could swim, nuns that were dancers, nuns who wore, gasp! Bathing suits! To tell you the truth, I was a bit jealous that Mama had somehow broken into this inner circle of the sisters. She saw them for what they were; dedicated to a life of giving in a way that most of us can’t comprehend, and human just the same.

When school was over for the year, the Sisters would stay in the convent for another week or two, cleaning out the classrooms, and then packing up to go to their Mother House. That was when Sister Margaret Marie and my Mama would sneak away, saying they were running yet more “errands”. Because I was the youngest in my family, I often got to tag along with them. I could sit in the back seat of that old Fury III and listen to them for hours. They talked about their childhoods, school, life; they talked about faith and about God, family and friendship. They were remarkable together.

One time we drove to my sister Elizabeth’s house in Willow Springs. Back then it was as far away from Raleigh as you could get in the eyes of an eleven year-old. On the way we stopped at a country store called Olive’s. The store itself was a large, white, concrete block building, and it sold farm wear and gear in droves. Sister Margaret Marie was like a child at play. She walked the aisles of “Osh Kosh” overalls and “Levi” jeans with wide eyes, feeling the fabric and cooing. She had been brought up in the country and she wanted some overalls to garden in at the Mother House so her habit wouldn’t get dirty. The old timers just stared, all except for Olive, the owner. I often wondered if it was his shape at birth that had earned him his name. He was olive shaped and ripe with enthusiasm behind his counter and he stood larger than life. To say he was a big man would have belittled him. Everything about him was huge, including his kindness. He doffed a make-believe hat when my Mama and Sister Margaret Marie walked in. I heard his sotto whisper to one of the regulars to “straighten up and show some respect, that there is a Sister-Lady.”

When Sister Margaret Marie walked to the counter with two pairs of overalls you could have heard a pin drop. Olive insisted she take them, “on the house,” and Margaret Marie grinned from ear to ear as she blessed him. You would have thought that he had been in an audience with the Pope. It was precious, it was country, it was a little piece of the South at its very best, and it was a moment I won’t forget. My Mama and “the Sister-Lady” got back into the car and Sister Margaret Marie couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful everyone was. I suppose it was in that moment I realized how very wonderful she was. She was personality, a bundle of life in black and white, dedicated and faithful in ways I am still so far from understanding. Most of all, she was my Mama’s very true friend.

When the Mother House called Sister Margaret Marie away to another assignment, I don’t recall hearing either bemoaning the situation. They wrote steady through the years, letters passing back and forth until word came that Sister Margaret Marie was in the infirmary and her prognosis broke my mother’s heart. Years after she passed my mother would still send contributions to the infirmary in Sister Margaret Marie’s name, yet she seldom spoke of her again.

As a kid, I don’t think I quite understood what was going on because of the “uniform” of a nun. Today, holding that still very colorful photo of Sister Margaret Marie in my hands, I’m struck by the power of friendship. It takes all forms, it can come at us from the most unlikely places, and if we’re lucky enough, we pass time reveling in it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Real American Horror Story

  I posted one of those funny e-card pictures on my Facebook yesterday. It was so totally me. The caption reads, "All spring and summer she was a graceful, classy lady...then football season started." I am a huge football fan. I've gone to games at my alma mater all my life - helps explain my choice of college when you find out that it was also my Daddy's alma mater. In fact so many family members went there we oughta have a wing named after us - except we ain't rich - especially after paying tuition. And when football season starts it's often like a family reunion. Parents, kids, cousins, grandparents all converge to watch a game. And it's probably like that at every college - a family event.
  I've watched the Jerry Sandusky horror show with horror. Part of my horror comes from the involvement of my favorite sport, part from the involvement of a school I have always admired, part from the involvement of a coach (Joe Paterno) I had always admired, but most of my horror comes from being a mother and a human being. How could anyone do this to a child? How could anyone not make sure the highest possible punishments were handed out to such a monster?
  My 14 year old son is off this week backpacking in the mountains. It's an adventure arranged by the Boy Scouts, and he's actually not with a single person I know until he gets picked up to return home. Talk about a leap of faith sending your kid someplace - this was it for me. I did try to talk to him about sexual abuse before he left. Of course when he was young, and through the years, we've always had the talks about appropriate touching. But I thought one more was in order. He very quickly assured me that he's read the articles, he's aware of the situation and nothing like this would happen to him. All assurances were given with that certain arrogance of youth, i.e. the eye roll, which was meant to assuage my concern. Yeah, right.
  We send our children to activities in the hope that they will meet friends, learn something, have fun...and to be honest sometimes to give ourselves a break. But these activities are mecca to the pedophiles. A large gathering of their potential victims, and they are predators. They know who to target, and how to target them. Every organization where youth gather has had this horror hit them - churches, youth groups, schools, and so on.
I do a fair bit of volunteer work. A couple of years ago, I joked that the State Bureau of Investigation might be getting tired of me. See I had three background checks done in the same month - Boy Scouts, our church, and our school district. I passed since they weren't interested in other housewives opinions of my clothing or how fast I drove at 18. I may have joked about it, but in reality it is no laughing matter. Background checks are a necessary evil because of the evil in society, and yet no background check would have picked up on Sandusky - BECAUSE HE HAD NEVER BEEN ARRESTED! It's also pretty easy to skirt the background check if you are the founder of the group, and perceived as a "good man". So many of the criminals have not been caught.
  I can, and have ridden on activity buses, spent the night chaperoning, driven youth group kids in my own car, and on and on. It makes me sound so unselfish when in reality, it's purely selfish on my part. Good luck getting to my kid when I'm there. I may be short, but I would take you down in a heartbeat, trust me. Along the way, I can also tell you that I'm keeping an eye on your kid.
  My hope is that out of this will come improved processes to prevent such abuse. The Boy Scouts now have processes in place which require yearly training of volunteers such as myself along with a requirement that NO leader is alone with a Scout unless that Scout is the leader's own child. I do not think that Penn State's football program should receive the death penalty from the NCAA (the NCAA is the governing body for college athletics and the death penalty ends the sport for the school). What happened there was not a result of payments to players or tutors cheating for players, and sadly what happened there could happen at any institution unless all of us work on stopping it.  
  Volunteer, know who is involved with your kids, watch, drop in unexpectedly, and pray. Each of us should have a responsibility here, our children deserve no less.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Women’s Lib For the 21st Century

Life is about choices, what we do, where we go, how we live, and so on. We all have equal right to those choices and most of us try to make the right decisions for ourselves - a given right as an equal member of society. But, what if that society, the one you live in, is so poor that life changing decisions are not your own to make?
We are all aware of the famine and epidemics that plague the poorest countries on this earth. Bob Geldof singing Feed the World every Christmas is a constant reminder of the struggles of the people in Africa. The overpopulated third world countries are in an ever-decreasing circle. The more their population grows, the more chance of illnesses arise. There is a higher probability of less food, and ultimately, not enough funds to support the country. A cycle that is not likely to break in our lifetime.
Eminent foundations such as Oxfam, UNICEF, and Médécins sans Frontiéres all work tirelessly to help, but their tasks are too big. No matter how many hours are in a day or funds available for medicine, or food drops made, the need continues. I don't know how those workers do their jobs and keep sane. Watching human beings suffer, witnessing children wither away and their mothers begging for help. I admire the workers, all of them.
Today, just by accident, I came across a news article that sparked my interest. The concept, given the above scenario, makes ultimate sense. The idea, while granted not new, is simply brilliant. Melinda Gates, yes Bill's wife, is advocating and promoting an ambitious program for worldwide family planning. This program is to include raising billions of dollars in order to supply contraceptives to more than 120 million women of the poorer countries. Currently contraception is either not available to the women or is classed as a crime. Melinda, herself a Catholic, has stood out against the boundaries of her region and even though members of her faith have criticized her cause, she has stuck to her belief that women have the right for choice. That choice is being able to decide when and if to have a family.
The program has been accused of advocating population control. Is it really that? Or is it just sensible and logical? To decide is your personal right. Ironic don't you think?
Whichever way you look at it, from any faith or religion, family planning cannot be a bad thing. Women should be able to choose. Leaving this type of thing to the hands of fate or the God, especially in the poorer countries, can be devastating and in many cases fatal. With contraception being readily available to women in third world countries, and if they are educated to understand its merits, surely some of the insurmountable problems being faced now would be alleviated. How can a church argue with that?
However, women's health is not the only advantage of the program. It is said that if this program goes ahead and succeeds, deaths of children under the age of 4 in these poorer countries will decrease by approximately 25%. Yes, you can argue that those children have a right to life, but in my mind why would you bring a child into the world to suffer painfully of hunger and disease from birth to death. Surely, it is better to help women plan when to start their families. Isn't that what life choices are about? I suspect if you ask any of those mothers we see on the TV, who sit there emaciated, clinging onto their children as if all the hugs in the world will change the outcome, if they had a choice would they have wanted this? I bet she would say no! They would say NO out of a maternal protectiveness, not cruelty.
Another sideline of this issue is that of teen girls. I read today also the number one killer of teen girls aged 15-19 in developing countries is that of pregnancy or childbirth. Shocking but a reality and what is more frightening, a reality that is also on our own doorstep! Schools advocate abstinence. A good idea in an ideal world, but this is not an ideal world. In my opinion we need more family planning awareness ever here, in our supposedly sophisticated, forward thinking country. I wonder if ultimately we are scared of educating our kids on family planning. I am not. I am not saying go out and tell them to have sex, of course not. But, as a responsible parent I am saying is that a little knowledge is power. The power that helps our children make the right decisions for themselves.
So, back to Melinda and her cause. I say we should all support it. There are no down sides, how can there be? Giving women the right to chose pregnancy or not is human, denying them is not. The question now, is how or will the people at the top help? I will keep my fingers crossed, donate if I can, and keep my eyes open for news!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Teenagers, Aliens and Zombies

I unintentionally read the most amusing article this morning. One of those flyby things that suddenly you realize you've read the whole dang thing while you didn't agree with hardly any of it. Some psycho, I mean degreed psychology professional, was suggesting that if you are in menopause, and you have teenagers, you should take the opportunity to bond with your teenagers over the changes in life you are both experiencing.
Well, freakin' knock me over - why the devil didn't I think of that? I just know my sons would love to discuss their "sexuality" and my "sexuality" and my "change of life". Uh huh - might be one way to get them to vacuum once they realize they wouldn't be able to hear me.
At least in my household, I do talk to them - when they let me. We discuss movies, and music, Anime, and books, sometimes even world events. For the record, I love "The Walking Dead", "Ghost in the Shell", "Radiohead", and "Linkin Park", the Hunger Games trilogy, and these are just a few examples of what they've introduced me to. And they love "REM", the "Beatles", "Jimi Hendrix", "Monk", and they've each read "To Kill a Mockingbird", various books on History which they adore, and watched many a special on the History channel with me.
And while we listen to music, or discuss a movie, or watch an episode of tv, if the opportunity arises to discuss what behavior or morality issues I see, then I seize it - in a very non embarrassing format.
But let's be real here. Is there a creature that is more intelligent and all-knowing than a teenager? Aliens from another planet would flee from that condescending look and tone of voice teenagers can adopt. Quickly the aliens would be forced into  recognition that this planet HAS an intelligent life form, and we don't need another, thank you very much. 
Raising teenagers is hard work. It's completely different from raising toddlers and babies, and yet at times I feel like zombies have invaded just as I did after many a sleepless night with a colicky infant. I walk in a daze and look at these tall creatures. Where did my babies go to? And why will they eat everything in sight? Is it possible to wake a sleeping teenager?
It's the best of times and the worst of times - if you're a parent you will understand. I approach my teenagers as I would an alien or a zombie - very carefully lest one of us scare the wits out of the other. But no, I'm not gonna discuss menopause with them!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rules for Living - Sounds Pompous, Huh?

So I always see all these lists on how to live. And they're usually thought provoking and almost always by someone who is rich, and famous, and rich...
So I thought I would write a list myself, since my birthday is coming up, and I'm, umm, not rich or famous...or rich. For that matter, I don't even earn enough income to support myself on a commune. But I have one qualification which might trump rich and famous - I'm happy - usually.
So here's my list on how to live life:

1 - Learn to say no and mean it. Not maybe, not I'll check and see...just say no. And don't give explanations - that just opens up that whole justification thing, and the look on your face when they tell you that you CAN do something will cause wrinkles. (This one is by far the hardest one for me!)
2 - Always carry band-aids. Even when your children are too old to skin their knees, someone else's child isn't.
3 - The Golden Rule is golden for a reason - stick with gold. It's a good investment in your life.
4 - Just because someone is mean to you, no need to try to one-up them. See Rule Number 3, and KARMA, baby.
5 - Forgiveness doesn't mean being a victim. You can forgive someone and not hang around for them to do it to you again. Forgive...then get the heck outta there if they don't know how to change their ways.
6 - If at first you don't succeed, Google it. It's amazing how many repairs and knitting patterns you can find, and other stuff, too.
7 - If you dress as if you are going to Wal Mart, you WILL run into your biggest enemy. Dress decently every day or else suffer the embarrassment.
8 - Find some way to laugh every day. If nothing else, use Facebook and Pinterest as a comedy tool - trust me, you'll laugh. Some statuses are meant to be funny, and some just are funny.

That's it. See no boring rules about health and all that stuff - I'm not your mother. And at this point you might be grateful. Any rules you want to add?