new tradition making: one of the perks of being old.

I used to tell myself a lot of things about myself that simply were not true.  I used to say, in my typical Cynical-Cindy way, “Eh, I’m not really in to the holidays. I don’t really go out for the whole tradition thing.” I envisioned myself more of the Thelma and Louise type. On Thanksgiving Day I’d be more likely to saunter into a gin joint in some far-flung border town and order the bar a round of shots than to cook up some dead bird. Let me tell you, that was fantasy. Pure bull shit, really. As it turns out, I love tradition about as much as an Alabama church lady loves deviled eggs.

This brings me to:  The Second Annual Thanksgiving Deviled Egg-Off.  This is a relatively new tradition where creativity, competition and everyone’s favorite picnic food unite for a good old fashion throw down:

Like any good contest there are rules, most of which we made up as we went along.

Rule Number One: There are to be no repeating recipes. This rule was promptly vetoed by Fiancé, who argued rather convincingly that was like saying that Grandma couldn’t make her famous fruitcake every year.  I don’t like fruitcake much, but he did have a point.

Rule Number Two: All entries must be named. There were She-deviled Eggs, Domino’s Pizza Eggs and something called Shmeggs. Don’t ask. Contestants had to give a little presentation about their eggs over a bull horn. Even though there were less than a dozen of us, a bullhorn just makes things seem more official don’t you think?

Presentations went something like: “These eggs are fresh from a local farm and topped with prosciutto made from pigs that were fed only chestnuts.”

or

“These eggs come from places so far away we have never even heard of them. They are pumped full of hormones and ingredients you can not pronounce. There is a lot a fear and rage inside each of these eggs.”

 Then it was time to vote. After we discussed different categories and a lot of complicated formulas that looked like logarithms, we finally settled on the ‘ol put a ballot in a hat method. There were ten guests and yet seventeen ballots were counted. The winner took home an original piece of art (magic marker on copy paper) and a full belly.

oh and did I mention the amazing table scape??

The rest of the holiday was chock full of more fun traditions. Some old, like my cornbread dressing and canned cranberry sauce. Some new, like combining the card game Apples to Apples and the liquor 99 Bananas into one stellar drinking game. (Maybe we should start calling that Fruit Salad?) Some ill-advised, like staying out far too late the night before said cornbread dressing and deviled eggs are to be made. Picture if you will me in my robe and my sleepy fiancé in his underwear desperately trying to peel eggs and chop celery in our tiny kitchen. And some completely foreign, like me at a college football game, watching as 150 year old trees get toilet papered and people take tailgating to a level I had never knew possible, and – gasp! – enjoying every second of it!

Now is the time that people all over the world are starting the preparations for their upcoming holiday traditions.  As I write this people are busting out menorahs, flinging tinsel, hording wrapping paper and booking extra appointments with their shrink. In the days to come people will be buying Wal-Mart out of outdoor lights, annoying coworkers by incessantly humming Christmas carols under their breath, dusting off the ol holiday sweater, and slaving over the annual family newsletter. The air around us is alive with tradition and I find myself wondering: what in the heck I ever had against it anyway?

Oh, wait, I know. Because tradition is a tricky little minx. Sure, that cornbread dressing is delish but in order to eat it do we have to sit around with a table full of Sad-Sam’s or Angry-Andy’s?  We look forward to feeling warm and fuzzy, basking in the glow of a fire as we  roast chestnuts (not that I have ever roasted a chestnut in my life, but you get the point)  only to wind up feeling let down and empty after all the nuts have cracked. So many us developed the tendency, like myself, to Grinch-out a bit and just say Bah- Humbug to the whole tradition ordeal.

But here is the great part – the Bob Crotchet, George  Bailey, wonderful, wonderful part – that I am just now beginning to understand: I get to create my own traditions now. Be it gin joints and shots or dead birds, they are MY traditions.

So, lets start with a few of the traditions I will not be partisapating in this year:  or any other:

I will not be driving all over town busting my ass to see multiple facets’ of family, some of which are not that pleasant to be around any way, because otherwise I would be sick with guilt.

I am no longer under any obligation to clean, cook and decorate my brains out for the never quite satisfied lover.

I will never again bust my ass on Christmas Eve buying cheap filler gifts at the mall just so that I have something to give the never quite satisfied lover’s Aunt Ethel who is always telling everyone that I am going to hell because I live in sin.

 No more pretending that Uncle Roy is not drunk. Never again will I silently nod my head in agreement when Aunt Rita says “he’s just really tired” when he passes out in the mashed potatoes.

There will be no more silently praying to disappear or wishing to join Uncle Roy in blessed un- awareness as I listen to Uncle Keith spew all sorts of hate disguised as religion and politics.

 And with all of the ghosts from holidays past outta the way, I have so much more room to create whatever traditions I want.  Like Deviled-Egg Offs and Early 90’s Pop Sing-a-Longs-Thons. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get really into outdoor light displays à la Clark Griswold, or take up a toy drive. But one thing is for sure, this year I will be counting all my many blessings and enjoying all the room I have made in my life for love.

And what about you guys? What are you purging and what are you creating this season? I’ll be featuring your creative holiday traditions as well as humorous holiday horror stories here!

Send ‘em to me at: ms.lovenhappiness@gmail.com

Annnnnnd here is a little something to get you in the spirit:

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“Dear Ms. Love n Happness,” Like Dear Abby off her meds.

Dear Readers (all two of you),  

You lucky dog! You have experienced me bending your ear about my wack-a-do problems. Now it’s your turn.

 I thought it would be fun to experiment with a “Dear Ms. Love n Happiness” feature on my blog. Like this one: http://mslovenhappiness.com/2011/11/09/chicken-soup-for-the-soul-or-dear-ms-love-n-happiness/ and I could really, really use your help.

 Could you PRETTY, PRETTY, PRETTY please take a moment out of your crazy-ass life to do two things:

 1) Jot down a question about life and fire it off to me. @ ms.lovenhappiness@gmail.com

Don’t worry! You and anyone you speak about will remain completely incognito, unless of course you are glutton for glory.

Fear not! If you don’t have the time to craft a cutesy question, it could be a simple prompt. Think Mike Myers and Coffee Talk:  “I’ve been dating this guy for a few months and the first time I spent the night at his house he came to bed in pajamas and a breath right strip. WTF? This was an absolute deal breaker and now I won’t return his calls.  Am I shallow? ” I can take it from there. Of course if you fill inspired WRITE ON!

My areas of (supposed) expertise: Single parenting, parenting, dating, blending families, relationships, crazy ex’s, really, really ridiculously dysfunctional families, antics, rants, fun and trying your damnedest to live a good life. And!  Powered by the world-wide web and a library card, I will even do research if I don’t have the answer. I. Am. Not. Scared.

And, while I may be a snarky puss the majority of the time, I am capable of being rather kind: http://mslovenhappiness.com/2011/10/25/the-amish-instinct/ and kinda deep. Kinda. See: http://mslovenhappiness.com/2011/11/04/an-open-letter-to-my-father-the-meth-addict/

 2) Recruit a friend to do the same! Let’s face it, I am usually always stuck at a desk or chasing a toddler so getting my writing out beyond my circle has been tough. Please, let your friends, colleges and family members critic my perspective and crappy grammar! The more the merrier.

 Let’s Talk!

You are achingly beautiful and wise.

♥ & ☺,
C.
ps
This is like butta!

Chicken Soup for the Soul or Dear Ms. Love n Happiness,

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness,

You seem to have been around the block quite a few times and you certainly like to give out a lot of unsolicited advice, so I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on a relationship situation for me. I’ve been with my boyfriend for a little over a year. I’m not sure what to do anymore; I just don’t feel like he loves me. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that makes me feel this way but sometimes his behavior make me wonder if he cares one way or another about me or our relationship.  I’ve gone out of my way to show him how much I care.  I’ve begged and pleaded for him to show me a little bit of emotion, to let me know he cares in return. When I bring it up all I get in return is a blank stare. He tells me I am dramatic, that I have watched too many romantic movies and that life is not like the Notebook or Sleepless in Seattle. So, what do you think? Am I expecting too much or am I in denial of the fact that I am being settled for?

                                    Signed,

                                                Settled

 Dear Settled,

I am intrigued by your ability to both offend and engage me in just one paragraph! I’d also like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to feel as if, even only for a moment, that I am an expert at something. If that something is icky relationships then so be it! I’d also like to qualify any advice I give with the disclaimer that I rarely know what I’m talking about and that I am much better at analyzing strangers “situations” (which, by the way is a word that gives me the Heebiejeebies ) than I am at applying the advice to my own life. But you opened up Pandora’s Box, so here goes.

I once had a boyfriend who I suspected of  settling for me. For simplicity sake, for future reference and just because I find it fun to say, I will refer to him as Mr. Wrong.

Like you, there were certain things Mr. Wrong did that made me feel like he just didn’t care. The first time I met Mr. Wrong, he saved my number in his phone with my name misspelled. At the end of our relationship it was still misspelled. Telling, no?  Just a few weeks into dating he invited me over for dinner and left me waiting outside his door for over thirty minutes while he ran to the store for beer and ground beef. Did I mention that I didn’t eat beef? Once he broke plans with me to go out to a hot new restaurant with some of his friends. He called me late at night to tell me he was bringing me a surprise.  

Surprise!  Here are my leftovers and this is a booty call.

  Eventually I would get fed up and confront him with these behaviors. His response was to tell me that I’d read one to many romance novels, which just shed further light on the fact that this guy did not know me at all. I was a Literature major and I was too busy trying to translates Chaucer’s middle English, or attempting to figure out what in the hell was wrong with Hemingway to read romance novels. Or, he would hand me this line about how it was not him, it was me. Mr. Wrong explained that the real reason that I was offended that he always used all the hot water and that he still saved voice mails from ex- girlfriends was because I didn’t love myself enough. Sounded like BS, but he was older and believed himself to be wiser so I figured he knew what he was talking about.

I swear, a guy reads one article in your O Magazine and he can twist that shit around and use it against you in ways that will make you doubt your sanity. Perhaps I was off my rocker a bit. What young, hot, smart and capable woman gives years of her life away to a guy who always uses the last of the hot water before you can shower, does not know your friends names and does not know how you take your coffee? Please, don’t buy into the load of hoo ha about why he does not know what you take in your coffee. It’s not because men are from Jupiter or because he didn’t have a close relationship with his mom. He does not know because he does not give a shit!

As much as I value my coffee, it was actually chicken soup that put me over the edge. I was struck down with a horrible stomach bug and had to speed several days and nights in the fetal position on the floor of my bathroom. When I finally recovered enough to think about how empty my belly was, yet too weak to  do anything about it myself, I put in a call to Mr. Wrong to request some chicken soup. He was out but told me that he’d wrap up shortly and bring me some soup. Hours passed. I woke up around three o’clock in the morning and stumbled across the room to retrieve my ringing phone. I had missed a phone call from Mr. Wrong. Praying he was on his way with chicken soup, saltines and ginger ale I listened to his voice mail:

“Hey, uh, they didn’t really have any soup at the bar,” he slurs, barely comprehensible over the loud music in the background, “so I brought you something else. Look outside your door. Call me when you feel better.”

I open my front door to find an ice-cold chili cheese dog, half-eaten order of french fries and a warm Bud Light tall boy. I promptly lost my shit.

I fired off a text message that read: “Take your chili cheese dog and shove it up your ass. We are over.”

The height of maturity, I know.

(Look, the cute puppy relieves tension!)

I wish I could say that at that point I walked away for good and I never dealt with anything similar again. But that would be a lie. After Mr. Wrong dropped off a peace-offering of a  case of condensed chicken soup and gave me a brilliantly crafted part apology part blame speech, I continued to stand by my decision to take less than I deserved.

 I was dedicated to drawing out my suffering. When Mr. Wrong and I did finally end, guess what? All the same crappy behaviors and feelings that were there from the beginning were there at the end and I suppose I could have saved myself a few scars and a few cans of soup along the way.

So, what does all this mean for you, Dear Settled? I recommend that you take a look at the advice that Mr. Wrong gave me many years ago. Sure, he was trying to take advantage of  the power of Oprah, but he had a point. I didn’t love myself enough to demand a good relationship. And I don’t mean demand in some sort of deranged diva way that expects the world to be handed to her on a cushion with a tiny tiara and a fillet minion. I mean, deep down, I must have not thought I deserved real love. Why else would I knock myself out begging for scraps?

Too many romantic movies and books? Please, it is not as if we expected them to stand outside our house with a boombox playing \”In your Eyes\” or haunt a wind-swept moor on our behalf à la Wuthering Heights.  We just wanted more than questions and canned soup.

And finally, I find it curious that we spent all this time worrying that they didn’t love us, wondering if they felt as if they were  settling. When did we stop to consider, perhaps we are the ones who have settled?

♥ & 🙂 ,

C.

And we could all use a lil of this in our lives. . .

An Open Letter to my Father, the Meth Addict:

I’d like to take a moment to thank you for the two gifts you gave me. One: roughly fifty percent of my DNA. Two: the image that is seared in my mind, the vision I see every time I close my eyes, of you, my father, being tased by the police. You are the perfect picture of white trash mania, handcuffed, feet bound and flailing around the parking lot of a third-rate convenience store in suburban hell.  “I’m being burned alive!” you scream, as your cracked out saucer eyes roll back in your head like some kind of epileptic monster. For a moment your eyes focus and you look at the camera that is filming your thirty minutes of derelict fame, and I can see where the drug went in and spooned out heaping portions of your soul. I can see that you are a hollow shell of the man you used to be. You thrash around more, screaming obscenities and shout “Oh God, someone help me!” Help you? Didn’t we all try? And who helps us, the charred victims you left behind on your mission to burn yourself out?

I tried to help myself by staying as far away from you as possible. For the last ten or so years you’ve been either absent or an addict, and I’ve grown accustomed to cutting you out of my life. The first time hurt, a lot. While I was busy studying my face off in college, you were busy perfecting your Methamphetamine addiction. While I was working to get a job and navigate the adult world, you were busy alienating your wife and children, driving your once successful business into the ground and picking your sores because you believed bugs were crawling under your skin. But I didn’t understand what was going on. It didn’t hurt that you are a fantastic liar and that being your daughter; I am predisposed to buying into your bullshit.  I didn’t even know what meth was, until the day I heard it speak.

One Saturday morning you were expected at my house and you never showed up. Nor did you bother to answer any of my phone calls. Sunday afternoon, after still hearing nothing from you, I began to worry. I placed a call to every hospital between your house and mine. Monday afternoon I placed a final phone call with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

You answered.

But it wasn’t you. Or at least, I thought it was not you. I thought I’d misdialed and called hell, the ranting and raw voice on the other end sounded more like a demon then my dad. You did not know where you were, or who you were. From all I could gather, you were in the woods somewhere hiding from The Faceless Men who had been following you for either days or years, you were not sure which because, as you informed me, time was not what we thought it was. After you divulged all that information to me you panicked:

 “Wait?! Are you one of them? One of The Faceless?? Did The Faceless send you? They put the bugs under my skin and now they send you to trick me. They want to lock me up; they hate me because I know the truth. I know how to fly!! Who the hell are you, you slut bitch??”

“It’s me, Dad” I whimpered, “It’s your daughter.”

“HA! Daughter. I have no daughter you Faceless bitch, I come from where they fly and I have no daughter.”

And you hung up. And I did not speak to you again for seven years. During those years you made your rounds of meth dens and prison cells and occasionally you would leave me a paranoid message from a blocked number. The first few I listened to, afterward I cried uncontrollably for hours. Eventually I learned to hit “erase” the moment I heard your demon voice coming through the receiver.

My son was about a year old when you called me and this time when you spoke where I used to hear the drugs I heard pain and regret in your voice. Eventually, you convinced me to let you back in to my life. I decided to let you in my house for a few hours. You stepped off a bus carrying a backpack and I almost threw up. Your eyes were cloudy and your hands were drawn up and shaky.  You had been chewed up and spit out.  When I could bring myself to look at you, I could detect that something was missing and that it may very well never come back.

You handed my son a stuffed zebra. I made you a plate of pasta. I took you to the playground where you watched as I pushed your grandson on a swing. Afterward we sat on my patio while you chain smoked and I listened to you talk. It was your voice again, but somewhere in the distance I could still pick out the tone of the demon.

“I don’t know how to ask this,” you said, “but, do you ever think about what we are? I mean do you ever wonder what we are supposed to be doing here?”

I stared straight ahead at the candle in front of me.

“Of course I do Dad. I have wondered every day for as long as I can remember.”

“I want to believe that we are here for something. That there is something here,” you grab where your heart should be.

Your face is distorted by candle light and the shadows of the clouds passing above.

“I do believe that. I have believed that for as long as I can remember.”

I put you back on a bus because I did not trust you to sleep even one night in my house. I put a smile on my face as synthetic and engineered as your bathtub poison and I said good-bye to you. Afterward, I cried uncontrollably for hours. I knew you were not done with the drug and I vowed to cut you out of my life again. This time the decision was not as hard. I looked at my son’s big brown eyes, the same ones I inherited from you, and I knew I’d never let him see the demon that resides in your eyes now.

The years that followed brought more of the same for you, tweaking and doing time. Occasionally I’d receive a call from a number I didn’t know and my heart would race. One day, I figured, someone was going to call and tell me you were gone for good this time. I was standing in my kitchen cooking dinner when you called again.

“What are you doing?” you asked.

“Making meatloaf,” I said.

“Oh, well, I just got out of prison.”

“Oh, well, it’s nice to know you are alive. I tell you what; if you manage to stay sober for six months you can give me a call. Otherwise, stay away.  I can’t keep losing you over and over again.”

And perhaps I should have left it there.

But I didn’t. I let you back in. But not just back into my home, back into my heart.

I looked on as you spread mulch and raked leaves with my son and fiancé. I watched you slice a cucumber in my kitchen and my heart soared.

You left my house, hugged me and said, “I love you.”  I believed you.

And then like a recurring nightmare, it started again. You didn’t show up when you said you would. Weeks passed and phone calls went unanswered. Finally I mustered up the courage to confirm what I already knew.

I open my laptop and, as I have done countless times through the years, I type your name into the search engine, followed by the word: arrested.

All the breathe in my body was beat out of me. The headline reads: “Man tased after fleeing police, kicking out cop car window. Deputy says man’s behavior consistent with meth use.”  There is a laundry list of charges including: armed robbery, attempted kidnapping, fleeing and eluding, and felony obstruction. I cannot fathom what I am reading, but as fate would have it there is a link to a video, where I can watch with my own eyes as you supply some of the best footage imaginable for a scared straight film or a public service announcement.

I’d like to tell you what you have done. I’d like to explain how you have hurt so many. I’d like for you to understand the love that you shit on the last time you went out to score. I’d like to say to you that I am ashamed to have your blood in my veins.  I’d like to convey the nausea that wells up when I think of where you are now.

 Most of all,  I’d like to tell you that all my sympathy for you dried up like one of your nasty meth scabs the moment I saw you restrained like an animal and shouting to the camera, “Show my kids this video, please, show my kids this video.” I’d like to make you see all of this and more, but it’s pointless because you are gone. I cut you out again, and this time with as little hesitation as someone cuts out a cancerous growth.

So thanks again for your contribution to my life. I’ll never know why I always valued mine immensely more than you valued you own.  Watching you destroy as much life and love as possible taught me how to grow lots of both for myself. Your disregard for your spirit and your purpose here gave me an even greater reverence for my own. I suppose that inadvertently you taught me a lot.

The last text I received from you reads, “I just want you to know, I’ll never be high again. I’ll always be there for you. Sleep tight, I love you.”

And the last words you will hear from me are: “Fucking. Liar.”

Sincerely,

Of hauntings and zombies

I adore Halloween. I was the type of girl who had her Halloween costume picked out by April. What am I talking about was? I still am. I have to stop myself from purchasing copious amounts of fish-nets and fake mustaches every year. I met my match in the man who is now my fiancé.

  We were just a few weeks into dating and I was thinking that everything was going better than I could have hoped for, in fact they were so good that it was kind of scary. You know the type of scary I mean, like in the zombie movies when the young girl is walking peacefully through the forest; she thinks, she hopes, she might just be safe this time. Everything seems so serene, but you know that guts are about to roll. And then lo and behold, a zombie falls out of the tree and eats the sweet girl’s brain. She never saw it coming. When it came to love, I was always terrified of being the girl who never saw it coming.

 After yet another scary-amazing date, we’d come back to his house. He turns rather serious and says, “I need to show you something.” Oh, boy, I think, this is bound to be a buzz kill.

I take a deep breath and say, “Ok.”

He whips out a creepy old suitcase.

My heart is racing: Damn it. I guess this is the part where he’s going to try to eat my brain?

He opens the suitcase and looks at me sideways.

I glance at him hopefully. I really like this boy and I’d prefer to spend the evening cuddling with him rather than fleeing his loft in terror. Slowly I scoot towards the edge of my seat and peer inside the creepy old suitcase.

“It’s my costume suitcase,” he says bashfully.

I start tearing through this treasure chest. Inside I find: a car phone from the 80’s, as assortment of fanny packs, gold teeth, a collection of airbrushed tee shirts, superhero capes, and more wigs than a drag queen could shake a disco stick at. I look up at him with adoration in my eyes. I am in love with this costume freak!

Now, here we are all this time later and I get the pleasure of sharing his creepy costume suitcase with him for the rest of our lives.

Sadly though, sometimes I slip up and I still act as if I am that girl wandering around in the woods in a white nightgown hoping the zombies don’t get me. Sometimes I still feel haunted. Like something rising from the dead, a situation will arise that resembles something from a dark and scary past and I start running through the woods like a big ninny, or worse firing bullets in the direction of the perceived threat.

Somehow, some way I have been infinitely blessed. He will dodge my bullets, step on my nightgown, and say: “Hey, wake up! This is not some nightmare you are reliving. This is our life.”

I snap out of the trance I was in: He’s right.

 I guess I just get haunted by the past sometimes. Really? Do I get haunted or do I haunt myself? Perhaps it is past time for me to consider that I am actually the one acting like a brain eating zombie after all. It’s a hard truth to look at, there is a lot of responsibility in stepping outta the white nightgown of victimhood, but I suppose at the end of the day I’d rather be the one doing the haunting than the haunted. I’d rather be the zombie than that dumb ass running through the woods late at night. Everyone knows that killing a zombie can be a challenge but I’m up for it.

Can’t say I would hate having this at my wedding. . .

The Amish Instinct

“You’re just going to let me leave the hospital with this baby?” I asked cocking my head towards the bundle in my arms.

“Don’t worry Mom, you’ll do fine!” Cassie, a god send in scrubs, tells me.

“Do they teach you labor and delivery nurses to call your patients Mom? Is that some sort of Jedi mind trick you are using on me to increase my confidence?

“I have rolled some women outta here with babies in tow whose maternal instincts were questionable at best. Trust me, you got this. You got the instincts.”

“Yeah, well don’t forget the cat-like reflexes.”

“Rarrr.” I whisper into my babies tiny ear.

“Rarrr!” Cassie claws the air by my ear and parks my wheelchair on the curb. We wait in silence for my ride home.

But I didn’t completely trust Cassie’s opinion, or my maternal instincts. I always questioned my choices and at times I questioned my very sanity; especially in the very early infant days. Sleep deprived from late nights feeding and changing I would stare down at my son until he started to resemble more of a woodland creature, a Sprite or a Nome perhaps, then a human infant.  Or, I would be startled from a very shallow sleep, certain I had heard his tiny cry, and when I crept into his room he was sleeping soundly, purring like a kitten. I confessed to my very best friend, “I know this sounds weird, but I actually don’t mind the smell of Leo’s dirty diapers. In fact, they kind of smell good to me.” Ok, even I knew that sounded bat shit crazy.

I’d never doubted myself more than the first time I had to care for my sick baby. I was terrified and felt utterly incapable. “Where are my instincts now?” I whispered as I frantically googled symptoms and entered every Ask-A-Nurse hotline I could find into my speed dial.

Eventually I began to realize that every illness is not an emergency and that, to some extent, I know what to do when Leo gets sick. When he comes down with a little stomach bug, I calmly take his temperature and I only have to recheck it once or twice, you know, to account for possible thermometer malfunction. I go to the store and pick up all the staples, ginger ale, and bread to make toast, a new picture book and some Lysol wipes. I put the little one to bed and I even refrain from making a doctor’s appointment until I see how he is feeling the next day. I am satisfied, I am confident, I am using my instincts. Until I open up the ol laptop and start a search on WebMD. Now I am paranoid all over again.

Now that I am in four years deep, I no longer fear a serious malfunction of my instincts on a daily basis. I don’t worry that I will serve him rancid meet, or scald him in the bathtub or profoundly screw up his psyche every time I tell him “No.” But, I still don’t completely trust my gut level instincts as a mother; I always double-check my first reaction.

Recently my primal Mama instincts kicked me in the gut so hard that I didn’t pause to doubt, like a lioness, I just ran.

Fiancé and I were on our way to Chicago for a much-needed vacation. We exited the train and were making our way towards the mammoth escalator that leads up to the terminals when I spotted an Amish family walking carefully through the crowd. Time almost seemed to slow and the crowds parted to let them  make their way toward the train. The train doors opened and from under the wide rim of their black and grey hats I could see the looks of fright and wonder on their usually stoic faces as they boarded.

It happened so fast. The train doors started to close. “Please stand back, the doors are now closing.  Please stand back, the doors are now closing. These doors will not reopen,” said the voice of the train.  A little Amish boy, no more than six years old, had been left on the train platform. From the inside of the train his mother is desperately pounding on the doors and his father is looking around horrified as if he has seen the devil himself. The boy’s face crumples and he bursts into tears as his entire black and gray clad family is whisked away to some unknown world by a talking devil train.

“Babe!” I tapped Fiancé on the shoulder, causing him to look in the direction I was already running. I made a bee line for that little boy. Moments before I was about to scoop that rustic baby into my arms and get him some help; an older version of myself swooped in and gathered the boy into her arms.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. I’ll stay right with you until we get you back with your family.” She enveloped him in her bohemian scented, shawl wrapped, bangle decorated arms. This woman had twenty-five years on me but she still managed to beat me to the boy, and from a greater distance. Now she was whipping out a Kleenex from her gypsy sack.  A pro. A maternal powerhouse.

We sized each other up and had a brief conversation just by looking at each other.

“You got this?” My eyes asked.

“I got this.” Her eyes replied.

“Thanks.” Mine said.

“Thank you.” Hers said with a smile. I patted the boy’s head and told him with my hand, “You’ll be fine. She knows just what to do.”

I turned and walked back towards Fiancé who was waiting just outside the protective circle that passing women had made around us. We made our way to our gate and boarded our flight.

The plane took off and my heart soared. I did it! It took a dramatic Amish airport scene, like something out of a made for TV movie, but I did it. Momma instinct kicked in and I ran, no fled, to that little boy. I never stopped once to think about missing the flight, or what I would do with him once I got to him, or if he would even want my help. I just ran and God help anyone who got in my way. For once, I was on the inner circle of the mothers. I had trusted my mother’s instincts and it felt good.

“Rarrr!” I whispered, clawing the air all the way to Chicago.

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: