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Top Ten Christmas Miracles of 2011

The Holiday Season has been so good to me that I almost expect it’s up to something.  You know that feeling you get when your Significant Other unexpectedly treats you to a super special dinner and in the back of your cynical little mind you think, “Is he boinking the blonde in accounting?” Or when your boss gives you lavish praise and you wonder, “Am I on the list for lay offs?”  Yeah- Christmas has been that kind of good. Some would say it was a CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!

 No ghosts came to escort me through portals of time and I spent no time conversing with an angel named Clarence. They are small miracles I suppose but none the less they are mine.

Christmas miracle #1: My four-year old son bought my “Giving is Better than Receiving” shtick.

Trying to teach Leo about giving, I volunteered us to buy Christmas for two children in need. Wonderful in theory but in practical application, it can be rather difficult to talk a child into buying toys for OTHER children.

In the days leading up to the shopping trip I talked excitedly about how much fun we would have being elves. I have learned that talking about chores, vegetables and other “undesirables” with as much enthusiasm as possible can be helpful with children. It’s tricky though, kids might be all, “Brocoli, hell yeah!” However they are just as likely to look at you like you’re an idiot and refuse. In this case the tactic was working pretty well  until the morning of the shopping trip.

“Are you excited about our trip later today? We get to be elves! Giving to those kids is going to make them sooooo happy and that’s what Christmas is all about!” I squealed.

“No it’s NOT Momma. Christmas is about getting toys and trucks and, and . . . and BOUNCY BALLS!” My son hollers.

Bouncy Balls?

Who says Bouncy Balls? Did Charles Dickens make an appearance at Leo’s daycare that I was unaware of?

Perhaps he just had not had enough Cheerios or juice that morning because when the time for Target rolled around he was in a significantly brighter mood. Still, lets not kid ourselves, I was walking into a potential hellish situation.

Boy was I wrong. He was an absolute angel. He spent some time looking at toys I knew he would give his left chubby cheek for but he never once asked for a toy for himself.  His excitement grew as he helped me pick out all the gifts. He knew just what to get the little boy. He was less certain about the little girl, at one point he stopped in his tracks and loudly said, “Uh, don’t girls like THAT?” Pointing an accusing finger at a Hello Kitty toaster oven.

I was beaming with pride as we checked out and by the time I loaded up the toys in the trunk I was doing that crazy happy cry thing I do sometimes.

From the back seat Leo asks me, “Momma, why are  you all stiffly?”

“I am so proud of you Leo! You did something that many adults (myself included) have a hard time doing.”

“Oh, but why are you crying?”

“Sometimes when grown ups are very happy they cry.”

“Momma, sometimes grown ups are silly.”

  True.

Christmas miracle #2: My Baby’s Daddy and I took our son to see Santa . . . together.

That’s right. Together. Was it awkward? Only slightly. We actually got along and may, I mean may have even shared a laugh or two. I left patting myself on the back for being such a mature human being, and thinking we may have a snowball’s chance in hell at getting along. 

#3 My four-year olds wavering belief in Santa was completely restored. 

#4 Fiance became one of those slightly creepy, yet magical Elf on the Shelf parents.

#5 No one got food poisoning from the Chinese food that by all practical purposes should have landed us in the hospital.

#6 I spent an entire holiday season with out getting down in the mouth about my dysfunctional family and was not once haunted by the ghost of Christmas past.

#7  XXX’s The Most Interesting Man in the world holiday ad campaign. One word: Brilliant!

#8 I hand crafted my Christmas gifts to Fiance and they didn’t suck!!

#9 I somehow managed to never set foot into a post office or mall.

#10 On Christmas Eve my son climbs out of the bath tub and as I wrap him up in a towel he looks at me with his enormous chocolate eyes and says, “Momma, sometimes I think I have so much love in my heart that it will grow and grow, like the Grinch’s heart. Only my heart will keep growing and it will just explode love all over you.”

I can feel myself raise my eyebrows. What is he up to? Does he want something? Another cookie, more stories, to open a Christmas gift? I brush the thought away like a snowflake from my shoulder and I pull him to me tightly.

“Sometimes I think mine will too.” I tell him as one of my dumb happy tears rolls down my cheek and on to his back.    

I guess miracles are not up to anything after all.

Annnnd, because if you know me you know that I heart George Michael. It would not be Christmas with out this:

Peace out Christmas.

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness: the case of the runaway spoon

Today’s dilemma comes to us from the dredges of the dating world.  Not really a shocker. It is a truth universally acknowledged that dating sucks a big one and we all put up with it because no one, no matter how independent they claim to be, wants to be alone.  If this is not a truth that you don’t personally subscribe to then I don’t trust you.

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness,

I have a friend who was dating someone new. There was no communication on his part for some time except a few posts on Facebook.  Then one night she called him up, he came over, they spooned and then he left. They set a date for coffee the following weekend. The day before their coffee date he left a friendly message on Facebook, but didn’t return her phone calls to confirm the coffee date. She thought nothing of it because of the spooning incident, I mean if you’re gonna spoon then coffee is certainly not a big deal, right?

Coffee day rolls around and the guy completely stands her up! She called and bawled him out on his voicemail. In return he blocked her from Facebook. A middle-aged man acting like a child. Any advice for my jilted friend? She is left confused and angry.

Thanks,

A Friend

Dear Friend,

Thank you so much for your question! I am sorry for what happen to your friend. I don’t think I have ever been stood up by someone. Well, except for that  time my own boyfriend stood me up when we were supposed to meet my family. Whatever. I am not bitter.

Getting stood up by some chicken shit is inexcusable now a days. I mean for Gawd‘s sakes, we have text messaging which makes it both easy and fast to lie! Now, I am not sure what your friend said when she “bawled out” this dudes voicemail, but in general Facebook blocking should be reserved only for the most persistent of stalkers.

And the cherry on top of the big ‘ol insulting-ass cake? All of this happen post spooning. In this girls opinion spooning is pretty sacred stuff. I’d rather kiss a guy and have him go around telling people my tongue was fuzzy, or perhaps go on a group date where the guy flees screaming “I never want to see you again!!” But THIS after spooning?  Ugh.  I feel your friends pain.

That being said, it’s time for your friend to brush the dirt off and move on to the next one. Would it help for your friend to think in the terms that her sucky experience is but a small microcosm of a far greater sucky entity? Because as we acknowledged before: dating sucks a big one. And it makes perfect sense that it would.

First of all, you’ve got the whole communication thing, which is tricky enough for people who have known each other for a life time. We certainly don’t know how to communicate with this new person!  Questions start racing:  “What do I say?”  “How much truth is too much truth?” “Will she think I am being rude if I tell her I don’t really like to spoon?” ” Should I tell her I am allergic to coffee?” Often times the racing questions become overwhelming and at this point we (read: mostly men) have a tendency to drop off the face of the planet.

Then you have got the date itself. You’ve got a wacky conglomeration of strangers thrown together, each with their own dating past, their own sets of fears and insecurities and sometimes their own personality disorders.  Often times there are  hormones and alcohol thrown in the mix and voila! —  you have a recipe for a potential disaster!  Like the girl who once approached the bar I was tending and demanded, “Quick! I need two shots of Jack! I am on a terrible date!”  Um, the worst part? This was said in front of her date. I poured three, one for each of them and one for myself to wash down the bitter taste that was rising in the back of my throat.

So we have a pretty good idea why dating sucks: people can be weird and love is complex.  We also know why we subject ourselves to the potential torture: potential romantic bliss or at least a good meal. But how do we make this process less painful?

I don’t know.

Sorry, but that’s the truth. I don’t know.  I am sure there are a lot of theories on how to date out there, books of rules and what not.  I don’t believe ’em. I am about to marry a man I met in a greasy grimy pool hall. I have dated a few men who looked perfect on paper, and quite possibly were perfect, but I guess I don’t do well with perfect. I have friends who have known each other for years and never thought once about liking each other romantically. They are now married with a perfect little cupid baby boy. I know a couple, complete soul mates, one is a New York City business woman and the other is a bona-fide cowboy. They met on Match.com. Don’t get me wrong, if one of those guides works for you or your friend, then sweet! But, I doubt that the same book would work for all three of your best friends.   I believe that love is way too vast to put in a one size fits all category.

It’s said that you have to kiss, er spoon, a lot a frogs before you find your prince/princess. Maybe yours is the very next frog? My best advise is to not take these dating dilemmas too personally, have a sense of humor and believe that one day these dating injustices will be nothing but really good stories to tell a special someone over a cup of coffee.

♥ n ☺,

C.

ps

What about you guys? Got any dating horror stories to share? Comparing notes on crazy can be really helpful!

Annnd, keep your questions coming! @ms.lovenhappiness@gmail.com

And I suppose we can all just be grateful we are not dealing with THIS:

Effin Happtastic.

I don’t know what it is.  Bad genes, too tight socks, lack of potassium in my diet? But I was never one of those overly happy people.  In high school it was the perky-cheerleader, in my early twenties the America’s- sweetheart- social darling type and now it’s the Stepford- ish-PERFECT MOM, or the light-as-air-spiritual-looooove-organic-girl-next- door type, I’ve always been leery of these overly happy types.  It was as if they had something, even if that “something” was just the energy to put on a happy face, that I myself did not have.  Essentially I was a half empty type and on top of that I was envious of others half fullness!  Perhaps I am slow, but it only occurred to me fairly recently that happiness is one of those things I’d have to actually work on, as opposed to just wait on.

This little worker bee came across Marc and Angel Hack Life and they are truly happtastic individuals. Have a look-see at this article:

12 Things Happy People Do Differently

“I’d always believed that a life of quality, enjoyment, and wisdom were my human birthright and would be automatically bestowed upon me as time passed.  I never suspected that I would have to learn how to live – that there were specific disciplines and ways of seeing the world I had to master before I could awaken to a simple, happy, uncomplicated life.”
-Dan Millman

“Studies conducted by positivity psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky point to 12 things happy people do differently to increase their levels of happiness.  These are things that we can start doing today to feel the effects of more happiness in our lives.  (Check out her book The How of Happiness.)

I want to honor and discuss each of these 12 points, because no matter what part of life’s path we’re currently traveling on, these ‘happiness habits’ will always be applicable.

  1. Express gratitude. – When you appreciate what you have, what you have appreciates in value.  Kinda cool right?  So basically, being grateful for the goodness that is already evident in your life will bring you a deeper sense of happiness.  And that’s without having to go out and buy anything.  It makes sense.  We’re gonna have a hard time ever being happy if we aren’t thankful for what we already have.
  2. Cultivate optimism. – Winners have the ability to manufacture their own optimism.  No matter what the situation, the successful diva is the chick who will always find a way to put an optimistic spin on it.  She knows failure only as an opportunity to grow and learn a new lesson from life.  People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times.
  3. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. – Comparing yourself to someone else can be poisonous.  If we’re somehow ‘better’ than the person that we’re comparing ourselves to, it gives us an unhealthy sense of superiority.  Our ego inflates – KABOOM – our inner Kanye West comes out!  If we’re ‘worse’ than the person that we’re comparing ourselves to, we usually discredit the hard work that we’ve done and dismiss all the progress that we’ve made.  What I’ve found is that the majority of the time this type of social comparison doesn’t stem from a healthy place.  If you feel called to compare yourself to something, compare yourself to an older version of yourself.
  4. Practice acts of kindness. – Performing an act of kindness releases serotonin in your brain.  (Serotonin is a substance that has TREMENDOUS health benefits, including making us feel more blissful.)  Selflessly helping someone is a super powerful way to feel good inside.  What’s even cooler about this kindness kick is that not only will you feel better, but so will people watching the act of kindness.  How extraordinary is that?  Bystanders will be blessed with a release of serotonin just by watching what’s going on.  A side note is that the job of most anti-depressants is to release more serotonin.  Move over Pfizer, kindness is kicking ass and taking names.
  5. Nurture social relationships. – The happiest people on the planet are the ones who have deep, meaningful relationships.  Did you know studies show that people’s mortality rates are DOUBLED when they’re lonely?  WHOA!  There’s a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from having an active circle of good friends who you can share your experiences with.  We feel connected and a part of something more meaningful than our lonesome existence.
  6. Develop strategies for coping. – How you respond to the ‘craptastic’ moments is what shapes your character.  Sometimes crap happens – it’s inevitable.  Forrest Gump knows the deal.  It can be hard to come up with creative solutions in the moment when manure is making its way up toward the fan.  It helps to have healthy strategies for coping pre-rehearsed, on-call, and in your arsenal at your disposal.
  7. Learn to forgive. – Harboring feelings of hatred is horrible for your well-being.  You see, your mind doesn’t know the difference between past and present emotion.  When you ‘hate’ someone, and you’re continuously thinking about it, those negative emotions are eating away at your immune system.  You put yourself in a state of suckerism (technical term) and it stays with you throughout your day.
  8. Increase flow experiences. – Flow is a state in which it feels like time stands still.  It’s when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you become one with the task.  Action and awareness are merged.  You’re not hungry, sleepy, or emotional.  You’re just completely engaged in the activity that you’re doing.  Nothing is distracting you or competing for your focus.
  9. Savor life’s joys. – Deep happiness cannot exist without slowing down to enjoy the joy.  It’s easy in a world of wild stimuli and omnipresent movement to forget to embrace life’s enjoyable experiences.  When we neglect to appreciate, we rob the moment of its magic.  It’s the simple things in life that can be the most rewarding if we remember to fully experience them.
  10. Commit to your goals. – Being wholeheartedly dedicated to doing something comes fully-equipped with an ineffable force.  Magical things start happening when we commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes to get somewhere.  When you’re fully committed to doing something, you have no choice but to do that thing.  Counter-intuitively, having no option – where you can’t change your mind – subconsciously makes humans happier because they know part of their purpose.
  11. Practice spirituality. – When we practice spirituality or religion, we recognize that life is bigger than us.  We surrender the silly idea that we are the mightiest thing ever.  It enables us to connect to the source of all creation and embrace a connectedness with everything that exists.  Some of the most accomplished people I know feel that they’re here doing work they’re “called to do.”
  12. Take care of your body. – Taking care of your body is crucial to being the happiest person you can be.  If you don’t have your physical energy in good shape, then your mental energy (your focus), your emotional energy (your feelings), and your spiritual energy (your purpose) will all be negatively affected.  Did you know that studies conducted on people who were clinically depressed showed that consistent exercise raises happiness levels just as much as Zoloft?  Not only that, but here’s the double whammy… Six months later, the people who participated in exercise were less likely to relapse because they had a higher sense of self-accomplishment and self-worth.”

As if these twelve items were not enough to both daunt and motivate the hell out of you, go check out their site for more list that inspire. I really enjoy practicing number one and two. I struggle with number three . . .  a lot.  I feel like I have been working on number seven my whole life and I could definitely stand to work on number ten.

What about you guys, how do you stay so effing happtastic? Got anything to add to the list?

One interesting take on a happiness mantra:

 

 

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness & The Case of the Ever Empty Heart

In this weeks installment of  Dear Ms. Love n Happiness the question comes from a dapper and endearing young man who I will refer to as Mr. Empty.  Oddly enough, Mr. Empty is far from being empty. In reality he has a huge heart and is endowed with the kinda gifts that change the world,  he just doesn’t know it yet.

Mr. Empty asks:

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness:

Why, even in a relationship, do I always feel ’empty’?  I am now in my early twenty-somethings, have been in multiple medium-term relationships, yet have not found myself filled with joy, or anything close.

Thank you,

Mr. Empty

Dear Mr. Empty,

Who are you trying to kid? This is no relationship question. I know you are far too brilliant to actually believe that any relationship or for that matter any thing external could fill up this emptiness you are experiencing. You just want me to be the boring ol hag that tells you what you already know. Fine.  Knowing full well that I am about to be trite, tired, cliché and commonplace, I am just gonna say it anyway: All those warm fuzzies you are longing to experience . . they have to come from you first.

If you are anything like most of us, you have to hear things 1 billion and a half times, so I’ll give it to you again and this may sting a little: All the girls you bed, all the money you make, all the art you create, any drug that you take will  not fill up that hole.  Duh.

Here is another little nugget of truth that may piss you off before it sets you free:  Your pain is not special. Whatever it is that is gnawing away at your insides, your childhood, something you didn’t get, something that you got you didn’t want, whatever you call your cross: It. Is. Not. Special. Neither is mine. Neither is my moms, or my lovers. Not my sisters,  not the guy on the bus who smells funny, not the asshole that broke my heart, and sadly not even the bitch that seems to have it all. None of our very painful burdens are special. What a heartless bitch, right? I know.  But think about it, they are not special because we all have ’em. Look around, from the most prestigious and powerful to those on the fringes of society, we are all running around with heavy loads to bare and trying to fill up aching holes.  And believe it or not, this is really good news!  Once I saw that this false feeling of emptiness is part of the human condition, so much of the problems power over me was taken away.

Now at this point you have a choice. Many people choose to get all dark philosopher prince on the shit and question the existence of God, don dark-colored garb, shake their fist at the heavens and write mad treatises from caves. Whatever. It’s been done. Do it again if you want. But, I think that what you really want is something different. You want to live from you heart and your soul. And this here is how I think it’s done, clearly I am still working out the kinks myself:

1) Find something you believe in with all your being and get your arse involved. 

Sure, your heart is empty and your soul is shriveled up.  But, my hand to God the best prescription  for this emptiness is to give more of yourself.  Giving  gets the heart pumping harder and your soul stretching. Its gets you out of the Philosopher King head and into your heart where the fuzzies live.  You will find, as a natural consequence of  giving to others that your own healing starts to occur.  You will realize that the cause you choose to  get fully behind is the one you need most for yourself.  (Is it a coincidence that I am writing a book about my experience as a single mom or that my dream is to start a program for broken-hearted little kids who want to write, or that my best friend helps troubled teenagers through art, or that my neighbor works with gay children?)  In short, heal others and you heal yourself.

2)  Realize that cynicism is overrated. 

You are very brilliant, and for brilliant people it’s easy to use your intelligence to find all sorts of evidence to support cynicism.  I know because I spent my entire college career doing just that.  I paid about 60k a year so I could sit around and commiserate with a bunch of other Sad Sams. We studied Nietzsche and Pound. We psychoanalyzed every halfway optimistic text within an inch of its life.  We compared horrific childhoods and told blood curdling stories about he atrocities committed in the name of faith or love. Oh- we had so many super pseudo-intellectual  reasons for our emptiness.  Our emptiness was a big, beautiful badge that we proudly wore. It was symbolic, it was artistic. It was bullshit.  I walked away with astronomical student loans and a still empty heart.

3) You gotta believe in something.

For me belief is not something I can categorize, summarize, rationalize, or intellectualize. For me, belief was something that lived inside me all along.  I just had to quit beating it down with a stick and let it come out and live a little bit.  For you, and for everyone else, belief is a personal experience. How you experience it, how you express it, how you access it could be as different as  my fingerprint is from yours.  What I do believe is universal is the fact that somewhere, maybe deep, deep, damn deep down in all of us, we know our truth. We believe in something outside of ourselves.  Life is a process where our knowing gets covered with shit. I suppose the challenge is to start shoveling the shit!

4) You gotta use your powers for good

The darkside really does not need any more help, they got that bizz on lockdown. Plus, the pay off and benefits are shitty. Mr. Empty, I would suggest that you take all your brilliance and all the energy you have put into to constructing your identity as the: intelligent, artistic, deep, emotional, wounded dark and slightly cynical man into something new. Use your  immense powers for good and build yourself as the man who experiences joy and fulfilment and lives surrounded by love.

I have a feeling joy is right around the corner. So take your remedy for a while and then lets compare notes. I  know a whole tribe of non crazy, at least in the dangerous sense, mildly cool peeps who are on the same plan.

Namaste Cuz!

♥ & ☺ ,

C.

Oh, and spreading all this love n happiness is kinda hard work, so laughing helps too.

Awkwardly Honest

When little kids are not making up wild stories or telling bald face lies, like the time in third grade I told everybody there was a dolphin living in my pool, one of the best things about them is that they are refreshingly honest. Unlike myself, who is always wearing different “hats” and often feeling like I am presenting to people, my son is completely comfortable in his own hat at all times.  One day I was risking our lives in rush hour traffic when I lost my temper in front of Leo. “What? Where do you want me to go you dumb ASSHOLE??” I holler at the guy who is incessantly honking at me as we sit in gridlock on the highway. Leo cocks his head and says, “Momma, I don’t like the way your face looks when you are mad.” Then he thoughtfully suggests, “Maybe  that guy just needs a nap? Maybe he had a bad day?”

Regretting that my mom “hat” slipped and a bit of ugly truth slid out, I think:  God, he is completely right. Schooled by a four-year old.

Sometimes I think of my son as a little Buddha, spreading truth and wisdom. And then . . . he tries to eat one of his boogers and the whole image is blown.  Sometimes his honesty and openness is more embarrassing  than inspiring. Case in point:  I call The Ex to speak with Leo who is visiting him for the weekend.  The Ex answers using the hands free function in his car and my voice is broadcast over the speakers.  I hate being on speaker phone when The Ex is around, I can just feel him rolling his eyes at everything I say, however, he insists that cell phone radiation will warp our sons brain so I deal with it.

“Hey baby, what are you doing?” I croon to Leo.

“Oh, hi Momma! We just had Mexican food!”

“Yum Mexican!”

“Momma, my dad is on a date right now.”

“Oh!” I say, a little confused, because his dad just answered the phone.

“Yeah he is on a date with  _________n.  She’s riding in our car right now.”

“Oh! Mexican.” I have to say something!

“She is really nice to me Momma, but I think it’s because she likes my Daddy.”

“Did you have cheese dip?”   Why can’t I stop talking about Mexican food?

“Yes. But Momma, I wanna tell you something! You are more pretty than ___________!”

“Oh! Okay, well I am gonna go to the grocery store now. I’ll buy some taco shells!” What is wrong with me?

I hang up the phone, absolutely mortified. Why in the world would The Ex choose to answer my call, on speaker phone no less, if he had a date in the car?

Maybe this is The Ex’s version of being refreshingly honest and breaking ’em in quick? “Hey, I have a four-year old boy! He can’t sit still in a restaurant! He says all kinds of crazy stuff! My Baby’s Momma is always gonna be around!  She is awful in awkward situations! Can you deal? ”  And I hope she can, because dating someone with children is a huge undertaking, just ask The Fiance.

I can only hope that what ever woman gets the extreme joy of having my son in her life recognizes how wonderful he his. And . . . since we are all being so refreshingly honest, I must admit, I am wearing my shallow and petty “hat” and I am happy my son says I am prettier!

 

Because this guy is always funny: 

A Sunshine State of Mind.

“This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down. Armageddon come Armageddon! Come, Armageddon! Come!” At age 15 I first heard Morrissey croon these words and I was positive he must be singing about my home town. I grew up in an area where discarded bales of marijuana wash up on the shore. If you didn’t stumble upon it yourself, you would know by the higher than average percentage of the population who are walking around stoned out of their minds.  I am from a place where plagues of genetically engineered insects called Love Bugs descend yearly.  Here historic landmarks are pulled down in lieu of another t-shirt joint or a Walgreens. One day you leave your house and see no one around for miles. In a panic, you think: “It’s the rapture!” Nope, there were really good waves; everyone has gone surfing.  This might sound lovely to some, but I considered my hometown of Melbourne, Florida to be nothing less than Hell with a nice sea breeze.

 You would have thought I was evacuating a category five hurricane with the velocity at which I fled Melbourne. At age 18 I packed up a U-Haul in the middle of the night and fled to Atlanta. I left under dark of night and with the greatest of secrecy. Ok, that may be dramatic, but I did keep a low profile about moving. When I discussed my desire to leave Melbourne I was usually met with blank stares or looks of disbelief. There is some sort of invisible force field, some kind of Unwritten Law that you don’t just leave Melbourne.

 But I left, and I rarely looked back. I have been back home maybe three times in the fourteen years since I left. One of those times was for my childhood best friend’s funeral. Heartbroken and in need of a beer, I stepped into a beach side pool hall; essentially I was stepping back into time. Everything was just as it had been two years ago, including the people. A local surfer dude type saunters over to me, pushes his long hair out of his sunburned face and says, “Ha! I knew you’d be back.”

“Dude,” I said, because you have to speak the local language here, “I’m here for a funeral. In fact I’m pretty sure you used to try to date the deceased.”

“Whatever, bra.” He sauntered off to take care of an important keg stand he was late for.

 Perhaps I sound bitter, but this was not always the case. When I was a little girl we made the move from the pig farm smells of the Indiana sticks to the salt water spray filled air of Melbourne.  As we drove south on A1A, I hung my head out of the station wagon like a happy puppy dog and gawked at the missiles displayed on the side of the road, the sun tanned boys and girls crossing the street with their boards tucked under their arms and the ocean peeking out from behind flamingo colored hotels built in the 1960’s.  A far more modest version of something like this:

Our first home was in a four story walk up, complete with dolphin motif, right on the beach. When I came home from Surfside Elementary School, I ran straight into the salty ocean waves. My brown hair became a sun drenched sandy gold and the only shoes fit to wear were flip-flops. On the weekends we would walk to a restaurant called Peg Legs to peel pounds of shrimp and shuck oysters. Afterwards we might stroll to the Village Inn for a heaping plate full of Key Lime pie that tastes like bright sunshine and a cool breeze. I sat and watched the moon rise over the ocean and people combing the beach for shells and sea turtle sightings. Back at home I crawl into bed, exhausted and full. I fall asleep to the sounds of waves crashing and palm branches brushing against my window.

It sounds like a little girls paradise. But somehow, something along the way changed. As an adult I wouldn’t even claim Melbourne as my own. If someone were to ask me, “Where are you from?” I say something shady like, “Well, I’ve been in Atlanta for a long time.” Or, “I was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico.” Although I may have spent a total of six months in Alamogordo, most of which was spent in a tiny bassinet next to my mother’s bed, technically I was born there, so I figured it was not a lie to say I was “from” there.  But what about the place I spent over twelve years of my life? How did my starfish studded hometown go from wonder filled to a complete wreck in my eyes?

On a recent trip to Chicago I opened up Sky Magazine and found a feature article on the Space Coast, the region that spreads from the Kennedy Space Center and down the Atlantic coast to include Melbourne. “Oh my God, baby look at this.” I thrust the article in front of my fiancé. After flipping through the pages, he looks at me, sort of puzzled. “This is where you grew up? The place you told me about? I hate to say it, but it looks sort of amazing.”  He’s right, it does look amazing. Spread out before me are pictures of jets soaring over the ocean waves, endless piers stretching out over lagoons and sunsets that make a person pause and take notice. I slid back into my seat and start to think about ‘ol Melbourne.

What exactly did I despise about my hometown so much? Sure, I suffered from a bit of a small town syndrome. I wanted to get out and see the world, the parts where one might be expected to get out of their board shorts for a nice dinner, where people did not use the word “Shaka” in every other sentence and where it was socially acceptable to enjoy music other than Reggae or Punk. Sure I had wanderlust, but staying away for fourteen years and shuddering anytime I heard the name Melbourne mentioned seems a bit dramatic. Something else had to be going on here.

I recall my Grandmother telling my Grandfather that he had “selective memory,”  he could remember important dates from civil war battles and stats relating to the University of Alabama football spanning the last thirty years or so, but he would forget one of their kids birthdays or their dinner plans. Perhaps I had my own version of selective memory. So many huge parts of my childhood were so hurtful, that I didn’t know what to do with the really beautiful ones. How do you reconcile heartbreak with memories of being tucked in every night? What do you do when you were betrayed by the person who lovingly packed your lunches for years? And how do you get any answers when no one wants to talk about it?

   Questions like these tied my heart and my mind into knots that were impossible to untangle. Eventually I exhausted myself trying to untangle everything and just put the knotted mess in a box with a label. My label read: Painful and Dysfunctional Childhood.  “That is what it is,” I told myself, and I tried for the sake of my own peace of mind to ignore the little whispers that say, “It’s not that simple. . .”

I think the same can be said about my hometown. Melbourne was part of a painful past and I shoved it in a box labeled: Crappy Beach Town I Grew up In. Sometimes, things refuse to be categorized and come crawling out of their boxes, such as the case of my hometown. The truth was it was not just a lonely beach bum town. It was also a town of magical proportions.  On the playground I could watch while shuttles were launched into space.  On certain roads it was possible that a panther might leap in front of your headlights. Sharks could attack, and huge and powerful storms often rolled in off the ocean. Manatees, which are practically prehistoric creatures, occupy the streams and rivers and alligators swim through the canals behind people’s homes. I could sit on a boat in the Banana River, watch dolphins and gaze up at  Dragon Point, the life size dragon statue that guarded a small island.

Melbourne, I would like to offer you my apologies for trying to stick you in a box. I’d like to see if you might be willing to take me back as one of your own. Much like most of my past, our relationship has been complicated and at thirty something I am still trying to sort out some of these knots. Very soon I would like to slip my flip-flops back on and smell your sea air, sip a 7-11 Slurpee, spray fresh water into your streams and watch as the “mermaids” pop up.   I’m in a sunshine state of mind.

An ode to my teenage angst and still a damn good song: