Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Daddy's Darling Daughter

This past weekend Maddie had her first date.

I know, I know, she's far too young to date, but I really trust this guy.  After all, he's her dad.

For years I have seen various pictures on Facebook of fathers and their daughters at Daddy Daughter Dances and I knew at some point the day would come when Maddie would have the chance to go to one herself.  They hold one at the gym we belong to every year, but Tom wasn't a member until this year.  When Maddie caught wind of the dance this year, her eyes immediately lit up and asked if she could go.  I told her she had to ask her father and before we could even get in the door and take our coats off, she was running toTom to ask him out on this very important date.

I knew he would be a little apprehensive about going since he wouldn't know anyone there, but I also have seen this man don a princess crown, boa and drink tea out of pink teacups with his pinky raised in the name of his daughter.  As he put it, how could he say "no."

He said yes to the very important invitation only a day before the event and he had to get the tickets the next day while he was at they gym working out.  He kind of made me laugh at how nervous he was.  He asked how he would know where to purchase the tickets and I told him just to go to the Activity Center desk.  He looked puzzled and asked how he would ever find it?  I informed him that not only is it not located in a secret underground tunnel at they gym, there is also a giant sign over the desk that he passes every day on his way to the locker room.

He was also concerned about the fact that he had to buy a corsage for our little princess and absolutely would not let me do it for him.  I was so impressed with how seriously he was taking his responsibility as our daughter's first date.  See, I knew he was a catch.

He was pleasantly surprised when he found out that you could purchase a corsage through the gym when you paid for registration and saved him the stress of having to go seek out someone at the grocery store to help him out.

We got the two of them dressed, Maddie's hair curled and she put on her favorite necklace and bracelet.  Before I knew it they were on their way and I didn't even have a chance to snap a single picture.  I stood there at the door as Tom's truck pulled away and was overcome with emotions.

My first thought was how fast she is growing up.  Before I know it, she will be going on dates with boys whom I absolutely do not know or trust, and I will be terrified.  I think back to the times my mom put me through a rigorous line of questioning regarding who I was going out with and will never forget her dismay at one who wouldn't even come to the door when he picked me up.  Boy, was she right about that guy.

Then I began to think of the Daddy Daughter dances I attended as a little girl and was mixed with joy and sadness.  I was joyful that my daughter had the opportunity to do things like this with her daddy and that he embraced it with absolute care and tenderness.  I never went to a Daddy Daughter dance with my own father because when he was a part of my life I'm pretty sure he either wasn't around, wasn't interested or I would have been too embarrassed to even bring him to such an event.  Eventually, I did go to a few Daddy Daughter dances with my oldest brother John.

He was a GREAT date if I had to have a "fill-in dad."  I remember so vividly my grandparents teaching us some of the "old-time dances," like the jitter-bug, to prepare us for the sock-hop.  It was an "oldies" theme dance so we couldn't just get away with the standard step-touch clap to get by.  We were versed on the twist, Fox Trot and my grandpa even showed us his soft-shoe routine.  Luckily, my brother could definitely hold his own in the dancing department and not only broke out what we had learned in our crash-course, but even did his own air guitar routine a la Eddie Van Halen.  I went from feeling like the only girl there without a "real dad" to the luckiest girl there.

I am forever grateful for all the stand-in dads I had over the years because they went above and beyond to make up for where my dad fell short.  However, it brings me absolute joy in my heart that I have chosen a man who can give my lovely daughter all the things I never had in a father.

I think that is what being a parent is all about.  We want what is best for our children and sometimes that means emulating all the important things our parents taught us, and other times it means taking the parts that might not have been so great and use it as motivation to be better.  

Once I shed a few tears, I went and spent some time with my son. I asked what he wanted to do while they were gone and he said, "Play Xbox."  We compromised and wrote in his "Dude Diary," which was an absolute riot.  It asks all these silly questions and in the end his answers all centered around banana, gorillas, bacon and eliminating all girls, especially his sister. Within a few hours Tom and Maddie were back home with stories to tell and smiles on their faces.  Luckily they did get their picture taken so I could cherish the night, but more importantly so Maddie could.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dear Past Self, Everything Turns Out Alright

Sometimes I think about what it would be like to go back in time and do things over knowing what I know now. 

Photo Courtesy of Nicole Hendricks

Like so many movies when adults go back to their adolescences or teen years and relive all the events that shaped their lives, I take this proverbial “Peggy Sue Got Married” approach to looking back on my own life and wonder what if….

Last night I had a hard time falling asleep and my mind went to that dark place called memories of high school, and I began listing off all the things I did that I may or may not have done the same if who I am today were in the same position.  After several embarrassing and painful memories popped into my head, I finally fell asleep.

Then today I was driving in my minivan on my way to have my third of four varicose vein procedures, very much my current self as opposed to my sixteen-year old self, and the song “Black” by Pearl Jam came on.  I think it was the classic rock station, but that’s beside the point. There is one line of the song that I have always loved,

I know someday you'll have a beautiful life,
I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky,
But why, why, why can't it be, can't it be mine?”

I remember listening to this song long ago and hoped and dreamed that I would be the star in someone’s sky.  I know, typical melancholy teenager, right?  Can you just see me in my room listening to my boom box hoping for whatever boy I had a crush on at that time was listening to the very same song thinking of me? Sad, but true.

I suddenly started thinking about the past again and rather than think of all the things I would change, I thought about what I would tell my past self that might be helpful.

When I was done, I had the most amazing moment of clarity realizing I am exactly where I'd hoped I'd be.  Based on the rut I've been in over the last several months, it was a welcome revelation of just  how wonderful life is and how much I have to be thankful for.

First and foremost, I would tell her not to eat the meat in the cafeteria.  Just sayin’.  In fact, I would tell my past self all sorts of things about what not to eat.  Imagine her dismay when I tell her about the fat free or gluten free movement!  I’d spare her from all those Snackwell’s that she thought were good for her because they were low fat. 

Then I’d tell her that despite the fact she’s pigeon holed as a theater person, she’s a fabulous runner and teach her some Pilates too.  Sounds stupid, but if you knew how much worrying I did about my body back then, you would understand why I’d love to teach her two things that I discovered later in life that changed my body and made me feel better about myself.  Hell, maybe I’d even end up with a scholarship.  However, that would also probably drastically alter the universe and how my life played out. Haven’t you seen “Back To Future?”

I’d tell her which boys to stay away from like the plague, which ones ended up being a waste of her time and energy and which one’s would break her heart.  I’d be careful not to discourage her too much, after all, some of those boys were worth kissing since we all need a little heartache to make us stronger.  I’d tell her boys are really all out for one thing and one thing only, so be careful.

I’d tell her to let things roll of her back and not be so sensitive, but warn her not to take anyone’s shit.  I’d tell her to be more confident in herself.

I would tell her to surround herself with people who make her feel good and do the same for the people she surrounds.

I’d tell her which friends will last the test of time, which one’s end up stabbing her in the back and which ones she will end up being friends with on Facebook that she barely even talks to now, hoping she will give them a chance because they are actually wonderful people.

I’d tell her to avoid stonewash jeans at all costs and not to go through that whole wearing boys’ clothes stage.

I would tell her that her future husband is actually walking the halls of high school right there with her and try to avoid running up to him to see if he has any dry cleaning that needs to be taken in or if he can stay home with the kid while I go out with my friends.  That would surely freak him out.

I would tell her to go home and hug her grandparents and thank them for letting her live with them.  I would tell her to have a cup of tea with her grandma and crack a joke with her grandpa. 

I would tell her to hug her mom and listen to her; she’s smarter than she thinks.  I would tell her she might be a pain in her ass about curfew and whom she hangs out with because she loves her and worries every single second she is away from the house. I would tell her to spend time with her mom instead of running off with her friends.  I would tell her to say “thank you” to her mom for constantly correcting her grammar instead of rolling her eyes.  All that information will be useful some day when she becomes a writer.

I would tell her to work just a little bit harder at school and pay attention in math class because, despite the fact that most of it doesn’t make any sense, she WILL use math some day.

I would tell her not to try so hard to make people like her.  I'd tell her just to be true to herself.

I would tell her to save her money and never to open that credit card in college. 

I would tell her that all those times her grandpa told her to mind her P’s and Q’s, he was talking about Pints and Quarts…like as in beer…which is actually really good advice as to not make a fool out of yourself when you’ve had too much to drink.

I would tell her that she really doesn’t know everything despite what she thinks.  She has a lot to learn.

I would tell her to have more fun and stop worrying so much; youth is fleeting.

I would tell her that despite the fact that she is lost and sad, everything will be okay. 

I would tell her that even though she feels empty, one day she will be whole.

I would tell her that even though she feels lonely, one day she will be needed and surrounded by love.

I would tell her not to be so angry, life is better than you think.

I would tell her not to worry about finding “the one,” because he’s closer than you think and some day he will complete you in every way.

I would tell her some day you won’t feel like “the poor kid.”

I would tell her all the things she hopes for; a family, a beautiful home, friendship and love, will all come to her.

I would tell her she’s beautiful and special and that all the things that she is experiencing will transform her from a girl into a strong, confident, capable woman.

I would tell her not to worry so much about the future and the unknown.  I would tell her to hang tight; everything is going to be all right.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bubba Lion:The Prodigal Stuffed Animal

If any of you know Colin at all, you know Bubba Lion.

Bubba Lion is Colin's most favorite stuffed animal, although calling him "stuffed" is kind of an oxymoron.  He has been loved and cuddled since before Colin was born.  Over the last few weeks, Bubba Lion went missing and we thought that life would never be the same without him.

Bubba Lion came into our life just weeks before Colin was born.  Maddie and I were shopping at Carter's in order to prepare for his arrival and I let Maddie, who was just shy of 23 months old at the time, pick out a gift for her new baby brother.  She chose Bubba Lion.

As Colin go older, he took to the lion and preferred it over all his other stuffed animals.  He used to turn him upside down and rub the silky tag on the lion's butt as he sucked his thumb.  As with most favorite stuffed animals, he has suffered a lot of wear and tear over time.  After awhile, no matter how many times I washed him, he stilled looked dingy.

Bubba Lion was not always known as "Bubba Lion."  Colin initially called him "Baby," but Tom was somewhat insecure about the level of manliness this name conveyed despite the fact Colin was barely a year old.  We changed "Baby" to "Bubba" and eventually that also became Colin's nickname.  In the shadows was also another favorite stuffed animal named "Bubba Blue," who is a blue teddy bear.  Usually the two stuffed animals were a package deal, but over time Bubba Lion was the favorite.  Most of the time he had to have him in his possession if we left the house and I can't tell you how many times I have had to run back in the house and hunt him down even though we were already running late.
The early days of Bubba Lion.  Still in pretty good shape.

Bubba Lion is a real ladies' man.  The bear on the left is Maddie's comfort animal, "Chloe."

At "Touch A Truck" when Colin was 2 years old.  Can't leave home without Bubba Lion!

Snuggling with Kira (our late Husky), Finn McMissle and of course, Bubba Lion.

The ultimate comfort.  Grandpa, his thumb and Bubba Lion's silky tag on his butt.

Times may have changed, but that is Bubba Lion tucked in between Colin's
arms while he plays games on Tom's iPhone.

This is Colin today with his buddy.  So happy that he was found.

Over the last several years Bubba Lion has gone missing several times.  There have been plenty of occasions I have had to drive back to various restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, friends' houses or the childcare center at the gym because Colin had left him behind.  I dug through more lost-and-found bins for the love of this particular stuffed animal than I care to admit. No matter what, he was always salvaged.  There were play dates where I would get a phone call or text that Bubba Lion was found hiding out.  We also had a few incidents where bedtime would roll around and Bubba Lion was nowhere to be found and I would have to re-trace our steps and make embarrassing phone calls to friends or family asking if they could turn their house upside-down looking for the damn lion.

I know full-well that if I really followed the rules of "Love and Logic," I would have to subscribe to the "too bad, so sad" school of thinking that would leave Colin Bubba-less until we could get him back.  But no, I would send Tom back to the gym, a friend would spin by the house after a bar-b-que to deliver Bubba Lion home safely before bedtime and I often turned the car around on our driveway to head back and search under clothes racks at Children's Place to see if Colin had thrown him overboard from the stroller while I was shopping for pajamas.

Then there are the times he goes missing in the house.  I have found him tucked in the bag that I keep my yoga mat in.  I have found him shoved in trucks, drawers, cabinets, between beds, under cushions and under the couch.  I usually find myself standing in various rooms thinking to myself, "What would Colin do?"  Then, I think of the most ridiculous place I can think of, and it is there that I will find him.

Two years ago, Bubba Lion went missing until I happened to go out in the backyard and saw something strange tucked under one of the two-by-four's holding up the walls of our ice-skating rink.  Yes, we had an ice-skating rink in our backyard for two Winters.  (see entry entitled "Ice Capades").  It turns out our dog, who has a penchant for stuffed animals, had brought it outside and buried it like it was one of her kills.  After we defrosted poor Bubba Lion, he was good as new...or should I say good and "loved."

I am pretty sure that my emotional attachment to our friend is more intense than Colin's.  Don't get me wrong, Colin has thrown plenty of temper tantrums and meltdowns when wee can't find Bubba Lion.  However, but at this point in the game, the only one losing sleep over our missing friend is me.  I can blame my children's attachment to their security items on my own issues.

As a child, I had a blanket that I slept with every night.  I didn't necessarily bring it with me where ever I went, but wherever relaxation or sleep was involved, blankie was there with me.  I also used it to play dress up.  It was a veil when I pretended to be a bride.  It was my dress when I pretended to be a super model.  I wrapped my baby dolls in it when I pretended to be a mommy and even tucked it under my shirt when I pretended to be pregnant.

It was a yellow thermal blanket, that at one point, had a satin ribbon trim.  As time went on, the ribbon came off, the color turned from yellow to a beigish-gray and there was a dried up crusted piece of Hubba Bubba on the corner.  There were only a few holes in it and if I had to compare it to other wubbies I've come across, I'd say it was downright pristine. It had my scent, which I am pretty sure was a combination of what all good security items are made of--spit, sweat and snot.  As much as I loved when it was freshly washed, it took awhile to get that comforting smell back that I could press against my nose and take deep soothing breaths as I fell asleep at night.

I continued to sleep with my blankie straight into high school, college and even post-college.  I was living on my own in the city, working a full-time job, traveling all over the United States and still slept with my blankie.  I only occasionally brought it with me on business trips and would often be confidently walking through the airport in a black pants-suit, pulling my wheelie suitcase ready to take on the world...with a security blanket tucked gently in my Samsonite.

My mother told me when I was younger that she would never try to take my blanket away from me.  She knew that I was a mature young lady who grew up faster than I probably should have or needed to. She told me that if that blanket was my one streak of immaturity, she would give it to me.  I kept that blankie with me until the ripe old age of twenty-four and the only reason I don't have it today is because I left it in a hotel room on one of my business trips.  

At that point, I almost never traveled with it, but I was feeling down about having a long stint of business trips.  I had just done a load of laundry when I was packing for a trip to Denver, CO, and decided that bringing my freshly washed blankie would help ease my melancholy attitude about the trip.  Of course, because I wasn't used to having it with me, I forgot to get it out of the tangled sheets in the hotel room before I checked out.  I realized my error while I was on the plane on my way home.  I got that sick, sinking feeling you get when you come to the realization that something terrible has happened and you feel helpless.

I got off the plane and immediately called the Doubletree Hotel I had stayed at to see if housekeeping had found it.  I got forwarded to their voicemail and left a message with all my information.  Unfortunately, my blanket never arrived.  I grieved the loss of my buddy and over ten years later, I still get sick to my stomach thinking about it.  There is a happy ending to this tragic story, however.  When I was in fifth grade, my school made a time capsule where we had to write a letter to our future self and include something small that was important to us.  I cut a corner off my blankie.  When I returned to my school a few years back for my 20 year grade school reunion, they were also celebrating the church's 50th anniversary.  They dug up the time capsule and I was able to retrieve my letter and the small piece of my blankie that I placed in a sandwich bag inside the letter I wrote.

My mom and husband were with me at the anniversary celebration and watched as I cried like a baby with my precious little triangle of a blankie that I held up to my nose.  My mom rolled her eyes and my husband just laughed.  My classmates just looked at me like I was nuts.  They all wrote about who they had a crush on and who their best friends were and there I was carrying on like I never left the first grade, let alone made it to fifth.

So, when my own kids' precious stuffed animals, that are the equivalent to my blankie go missing, I go into full search-party mode.  Our latest case of the missing Bubba Lion was no exception.  I was part CSI, part bloodhound, part Sherlock Holmes.  I originally thought that Bubba Lion had to be in the house somewhere since he was last seen around Christmas and since Colin a case of Hand, Foot and Mouth, he didn't leave the house much for the week between Christmas and New Years.  When he didn't show up 2 1/2 weeks later, I began to worry.  I spent several nights trying to fall asleep as I recalled where we  went during that period of time.  I finally recalled the Friday after New Years when we spent the day running errands and ended up painting pottery at the local Color Me Mine.

I decided that the next day I would begin retracing our steps from that particular day starting with the pottery place.  We still hadn't picked up what we painted, so it was the perfect opportunity to see if they had it in their lost-and-found.  From there, we hit the Starbucks around the corner, since the cupcake shop we had stopped in that day was already closed.  Neither the pottery place nor Starbucks had Bubba Lion.

We needed to eat dinner before I had to be at the gym to teach a class, so we stopped at Portillos where we had lunch the day I thought Bubba Lion went missing.  I asked them to look in their lost and found for him and the gentleman informed me that he didn't find anything.  He also told me they only keep the items in their lost and found for about three weeks.  I had that sinking feeling I had experienced on the plane when I was 24-years old when I realized I left my blankie behind.  I envisioned Bubba Lion getting dumped in the garbage along with leftover beef sandwiches, styrofoam hamburger  boxes and ketchup soaked french fries.

We returned home and I said my fifth or sixth prayer to St. Anthony.  This time I dug deep and really pleaded with him to help us find Bubba Lion since Colin had started to show signs that the reality of Bubba Lion being lost and gone forever was setting in.  I pulled his bed out again.  I looked in every cubby, every cabinet, dresser, couch cushion and finally went through a bin of cars, trucks and Star Wars ships.  Bam!  There he was hiding under the X-Wing Fighter.

I pulled him out and held him up triumphantly and shouted, "I found BUBBA LION!!"  Colin, who was sitting in his bed waiting for me to tuck him in while I was dismantling his room, looked up with quite possibly the best expression I have ever seen come across his face.  It was a mixture of surprise, excitement, sheer joy and relief.  I know this because those were all the emotions I was feeling as well.  I put Bubba Lion up to my nose to smell that smell that was not only comforting to Colin, but to me because it smelled like my baby.

As my kids get older, many of the things from when they were babies are a distant memory.  All the bouncy seats are gone, the clothes have been donated and the Exersaucer is taking up half of someone else's family room as we speak.  But for both my children, they each have a stuffed animal that they have had since before they were born. While both Bubba Lion and Madelyn's bear, Chloe, have seen better days, they are the one constant in their ever-changing lives.

Perhaps that is why my mom let me keep my blankie with no argument.  After all, she had bribed my older brother with dollar bills countless times to get rid of his blankie.  Maybe she just wanted to keep a little piece of her "baby" a baby for as long as possible.  I really wouldn't be surprised seeing as how she still introduces me to people as "her baby" despite the fact I am pushing thirty-seven years old. I have a feeling that deep down my mom was almost as excited and emotional as I was the day I retrieved my little piece of blankie from the time capsule, much as I shared in Colin's excitement when we found Bubba Lion.