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I’m in Manitoba Visiting Ironic Mom, Eh!

I’m guest-posting at Ironic Mom today!

Back in June, Ironic Mom (aka: Leanne Shirtliffe) held a big, exciting contest called “What’s in a Name?” in honor of her 200th post where she discussed how people have butchered, screwed around with, and twisted her name which has kept her entertained for decades.

I could totally relate.

I told her my story here.

And then she told me I won here!

I felt so special!

Then I learned she had used a Random Number Generator to determine the winner.

But privately, she told me she was really psyched I had won.

So that was cool.

As the recipient of the Grand Prize, I got to post on Leanne’s blog.

(Um, Leanne has like 10,237 followers, so I’m hoping some of her people fall in love with me.)

So, my shizz is in Canada today.

Ironic Mom's Place: Home of Thing 1 & Thing 2

Seriously, I’m at Ironic Mom’s today, where she is vacationing in Manitoba.

Click on the picture, and you’ll be there in like one second.

I hope you’ll read my piece and comment over there.

Or here.

Or both.

Either way.

It’s all good.

For those of you who do not reside in Canada, you do not even have to have a valid Passport or go through Customs or anything.

So hooray for hockey and Queen Elizabeth, beavers and Biebers, maple leaves and Mounties.

And all things Canadian.

Especially Ironic Mom.

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On Selective Remembering

Hand Hearts

Last month, a friend was talking about how she feels like she is losing control of so many things in her children’s lives. Her eldest son will be heading for high school in September, and she had just learned he had watched The Hangover and Wedding Crashers while at a friend’s house: two movies she didn’t think were appropriate for someone his age.

“But what can I do?” she asked, shrugging her shoulders. “He was at someone else’s house? I can’t control everything all the time, can I?”

Then she began to fret over how her younger son’s bus driver allowed his middle school-aged riders to listen to all kinds of music, much of which she considered to have inappropriate lyrics.

“Did your son’s bus driver let the kids listen to music?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, honestly. I mean, the topic had never come up. “Let’s ask him.”

We called Monkey over from where he was doing something Monkey-ish to ask him our mommy-questions.

“Were you allowed to listen to music on the bus this year?” I asked.

Monkey thought for about .3 seconds and then answered with absolute certainty.

“No.”

And then something happened inside my brain: a little click: that proverbial light-bulb warming to slow glow.

“Dude,” I smiled, “You don’t know what happens on the bus…” I paused for effect.

Monkey looked confused.

“You’re a walker!” I laughed.

Monkey smacked his forehead with his hand and wandered away laughing.

Our house is located about 200 feet from the back of my son’s school. Each morning at 7:13 AM, Monkey put his dishes in the sink, opened the sliding glass doors, and slid out back where he disappeared behind a bunch of pine trees and evergreens. We both know this. It was his routine for 180 days.

Google Images

Our simultaneous forgetting was a peculiar mother-and-son moment.

We used to do so much together. Everything. For years, he was like an extra appendage, wrapped around my leg or lying across my lap. Many times, I have answered a question that he had not yet even asked.

“Yes,” I would say.

“I didn’t even ask you anything yet?” Monkey would say.

“Yes, you can have dessert. Go ahead.” And then we would cozy up on separate ends of the couch with only our toes touching, eating small bowls filled with vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles.

Back then, he thought I was magic.

For a period there, I was sure I would remember everything, each detail. The curve of his pinky as it curled around his blue blanket while he napped.

But you don’t; you forget things.

And it’s okay, I guess.

I love that he is growing older, growing into the person he will one day become more fully.

But there are some things I miss: like those Vulcan mind-meld moments.

So I guess I’m mourning something, too.

Who knew?

What things have you forgotten lately that you know you should absolutely know?

Things I Won’t Be Hearing On Mother’s Day

One of Monkey's labor-intensive cards.

When Monkey was entering kindergarten, he had to take a pre-screening test.

The shriveled woman sitting at a tiny desk asked him to draw a stick figure of a person, which he did perfectly. (Well, the arms were coming out of the head, but he remembered arms and hands and a few fingers.) She asked if he could recite his ABC’s (which, of course, he did because I had taught them to him.) She asked if he could spell his first and last name, and he could. (Well, at least his first name.)  She asked him to count as high as he could, and then she gently told him he could stop… when he hit 50.

Sitting in the back of the room, I beamed.

Why?

Because I had taught him to count to 50.

Then Monkey and the tired, old test giver chatted it up a bit, during which time I assumed she was assessing his overall intellectual and emotional readiness.

(I swear I almost bowed and said, “Thank you! Thank you very much!)

Then Mrs. Tester asked Monkey a question.

“Tell me about your parents. What does your father do?”

And while he started simply enough, my child launched into a four-minute speech about what his daddy does every day at work. “My dad fixes eyes,” said my son, bursting with pride, making my spouse sound like the savior to all people born with eyes (which, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone, right?)

Four minutes is a really long time to listen to someone talk.

When they are not talking about you.

But that’s what I did.

Because secretly I was excited. I figured, well, if Monkey said all that about a man who’s home for three hours of his day, I can’t wait to hear what he is going to say about me. After all, I am the one who feeds him and bathes him and wipes his butt and cares for him when he is sick. (Except barf. Hubby takes care of all barf.)  I am the one who shleps him to his activities and his play dates. I am the one who takes him to museums to introduce him to art. I am the one who reads to him and cuddles with him before naps and at bedtime. I am the one who plays games with him and makes grocery shopping and doing laundry fun.

Finally Mrs. Tester asked, “What does your mommy do?”

Monkey shifted around in his seat.

Except for the creak from his chair, the room was silent.

I sat at the back of the room and watched Monkey scratch his head.

“She talks on the phone a lot.”

What? My brain was silently screaming. What is that little freak talking about?!

I will not tell you about the ride home, where I asked Monkey to explain his big choke how he got stuck explaining what it is that I do ever day. About how he rationally explained that daddy was the one who made the money, and he really couldn’t figure out how to explain what I did.

Now, it is obviously not fair to dump all this on the child. Hubby is not the best facilitator when it comes to Mother’s Day. This is because he generally golfs on Sundays. And since Hubby is out playing with his wood relaxing with his boys, there is no one to oversee the “special last-minute Mother’s Day present making” in our house, and I’m not about to pull out the markers and demand, “Make me something to show me how much you love me!”

Let’s just say I have learned to keep my expectations for Mother’s Day kinda low.

Don’t get me wrong, my boy loves me.

He does.

I don’t really need a special day for him to show it. And, to be fair, Hubby always comes through with some kind of brunch.

(You know, after golf.)

Plus I have faith that one day, when he is a daddy, Monkey will have that moment of clarity that only comes while pacing across the floor at a ridiculous hour while cradling a fragile, little person who frickin’ refuses to sleep.

He will groggily realize, “My mom did this for me.”

And as the guilt gratitude washes over him in that late hour, perhaps he will consider ordering me some overpriced flowers from over the Internet.

Maybe he will even consider calling me.

And that reminds me.

I should probably call my mother.

How does Mother’s Day go at your house? What did you get that rocked your world? (Or didn’t.) Tell me everything. I’m living vicariously.

Tweet this twit at @rasjacobson

Gratitude From An 11-Year Old

So it’s Thanksgiving. I’ll tell you what I’m grateful for: My son, who decided to take over as today’s guest blogger and gave me a little extra vacation time. I was going to add more, but I think he’s about covered it.

Stuff I’m Thankful for at Eleven Years Old

1. Thanks for my family. They love and support me when I’m in a tough situation.

2. Thanks for life. It keeps me alive.

3. Thanks for friends. Those guys sometimes piss me off, but they are still awesome.

4. Thanks for entertainment. It makes us say: “ooh,” “aah,” and “oh no!”

5. Thanks for books. They help us learn and are great on car rides when you don’t want to get out of the car to do errands. You can say, “Do I have to go in? I’m reading.” That usually works.

6. Thanks for my Dad’s job. Without it we wouldn’t have enough money for everything we have today. Because everyone knows my mom’s job as a teacher doesn’t really pay very much.

7. Thanks for technology. Especially when it works.

8. Thank goodness for a little vacation. No school!

9.  Thanks for blankets: Warmness!

10. Thanks for everything. Except the bad stuff. And luckily, we don’t have too much of that.

What are you thankful for?

“Out of The Closet” by Chrissy Teague

This piece was written by a former student from Monroe Community College, Crissy Teague. She is one smart, beautiful, tough cookie.

image from google.com

Everything I own in the world fits behind two locked closet doors. Last year I divorced, got fired and denied for unemployment. My nine-year old  and I moved back home with my mother. I felt lost. What could I control? I could take care of what little I owned. I locked away clothes, movies, CD’s, shoes, video games and hygiene products. No one would borrow or damage what was “mine.” It belonged to me. My thirteen year-old sister would no longer take my clothes without asking, not even the dirty ones — (I locked the hamper up too). Everything changed, but I would be  in control of my little world.

Then, my son threw two mega fits while we accompanied my mother to the mall. He first cried when I refused his request for a certain video game. Telling him to “put it on his Christmas list,” or “we can’t afford it because Mommy’s not working,” or “you hardly play the the your other Wii games” did not make the tears subside. Mega fit number two came when I gave him a caramel rice cake topped with peanut butter to snack on. His lack of gratitude, and double dose of tears in two hours resulted in up a “starving kids in Africa” speech.

Fuming, I sat arms crossed. How could my child be so ungrateful? Why is he so selfish/self-centered? After a few moments I realized, this behavior is learned: Narcissism as taught by me. I remembered my belongings under lock and key. I’ve been doing this all wrong. Not just training my child, but living. My new conviction: God did not breathe life into me so I could horde pleasures for myself then die, an empty existence.

guest blogger, Crissy Teague

The little I own in the closets now seems like too much. It’s time to come out of the closets. I will give to my local community. I will go through my movies/video games and donate to local orphanages. My son has extra toys, books to give to a daycare, or hospital children’s wing, or library. A dozen fancy dresses and shoes can go to the Fairy Godmother project. Instead of spending nights indoors watching movies, my son and I will volunteer. It is better to give than to receive. I’m going to give my son a rich legacy—a legacy of giving to others.

What are you holding onto that might benefit someone else? Needs have never been greater. What better time to give than now? You may feel like you don’t have much. I understand. I’m a jobless single mother coming out of two closets. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to give. I challenge you to do what you can. Our relatives, our friends, our neighbors need us. The quality of community is in our hands. Who knows the outcome? The life you change may be your own.

Being Neighborly

photo by Our City Forest @ Flickr.com

Growing up, I knew everyone in my neighborhood. The girls across the street were my babysitters, and they let me sit in the funky purple bedroom and play with their Barbies. The older couple who lived next door to my parents had a tiny little poodle, and the Mrs Z. liked to watch me practice my gymnastics on the lawn. The neighbors on our other side were a little standoffish, but we understood this about them and still waved as they passed in their beige car. There was an older woman who nurtured a fantastic garden in her backyard. She taught me my first words in French: “J’adore les fleurs.” The people behind us had children, and my brother and I would stay out late playing kickball and running barefoot in their tall grass until it grew dark and we could no longer see the ball. I loved knowing my neighbors, and I suppose I have tried to reproduce similar kinds of connections no matter the type of community in which I found myself living.

Being a good neighbor has always been important to me. In graduate school, a cool guy named Roger lived downstairs and we regularly got together on Thursday nights to share dinner and watch Seinfeld, Friends and Melrose Place. In exchange for Roger’s many kindnesses — like his terrific banana bread and fettuccine — I tried not to wear my clogs inside my apartment because I knew if I did, well, my floor was his ceiling, so it would have been like stomping directly on his head.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and suddenly my husband and I found ourselves living in our first home: a cedar-sided, contemporary on a cul-de-sac. We didn’t know anyone, and no one seemed to want to know us. I was lonely. I couldn’t help myself; I set out to figure out who everyone was. Walking from house to house, I asked people if they would supply their names, their children’s names, and email addresses, so I could create a big ole neighborhood directory. As it turned out, nearly everyone was interested! In fact, in meeting my new neighbors, many people confessed they were embarrassed that they had lived in their homes as long as they had without knowing the people who lived on either side of them, but they always added, it seemed too much time had gone by to ask.

I was happy to be the New Girl and, at the very least, help everyone learn each other’s names. We distributed the directory digitally and used it to organize garage sales, to remind people to drive a little more slowly in the summer, to announce births and graduations, to share pertinent neighborhood information. People would thank me, and I would always tell them creating the list wasn’t a completely selfless act.

I did it because I liked, no . . .  I needed to know my neighbors.

Not too long ago, I sat down for cupcakes and coffee with Peter Lovenheim, the parent of a former student of mine. Peter is the author of the book In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community On an American Street One Sleepover at a Time, a non-fiction narrative which chronicles a murder-suicide that rocked his neighborhood in 2000. He wondered how such a thing could happen in the neighborhood in which he lived: the same neighborhood in which he had grown up.

In his book, Lovenheim sets out on a mission to meet his neighbors, to try to make sense of what happened on the night the tragedy occurred. In the process, he meets families and pets and witnesses daily routines, asks what it is that makes a place a home, and a street more than merely an address. In reaching out, he finds others also searching for connection and longing for what used to be and, in doing so, he inadvertently becomes a “connector,” bringing people together to help each other. Lovenheim writes:

In the Hebrew Bible, the word most often translated as “neighbor” rea can mean variously: friend, tribesman, fellow Israelite – pretty much anyone not a close relative or foreigner. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), therefore, is a broad injunction to treat kindly most of the people we encounter daily. But rea also has the narrower meaning of a person living nearby: “A close neighbor is better than a distant brother,” advises Proverbs 27:10.

In this age of texting and Skyping, email and Facebook, we have what I call the illusion of connection, but I believe many people crave deeper connections with each other. More neighborly connections. Quiet moments when people who may not share any kind of common past can share a street, can know each other enough to agree to take in each other’s mail, to water each other’s flowers, to feed each other’s pets, maybe watch each other’s children, share each other’s joys and — if it feels right — extend themselves during times of sorrow. In the very least, they can wave hello.

These days, my husband and I (along with our 11-year-old son) live in a different neighborhood. And with the exception of a few folks, I recognize nearly everyone in my neighborhood. Okay, so maybe I don’t have to sleepover at everyone’s house, the way Peter Lovenheim did, but it’s nice to be neighborly. I love that my son knows the neighborhood kids. In warm weather, they jump on trampolines, squirt each other with water guns, and play with LEGOs in people’s basements. In the winter, they sled together, slim slices of color against the white snowy field. With the help of neighborhood email, annual Halloween parades are arranged and concerns about suspicious vehicles are passed along. A Book Club was born, and a piano was last seen being rolled across the street from one house to another.

I have found that when you get down to brass tacks, many people don’t know their neighbors. Not really. When you ask people if they know their neighbors, many say, “Sure.” But if you probe deeper, you find that most people don’t know who lives in which house, what people do, the last names of their immediate neighbors. People living next door to each other don’t know each other — at all. Folks drive in: garage doors go up, garage doors go down. I’m not saying this is an inherently horrible thing. I’m just asking people to think about the scenario that happened in Brighton, NY in 2000.

Could you borrow a cup of sugar from someone right now? Would it feel weird to even ask? Do you have someone in your immediate vicinity whom you could go to if you felt unsafe? Because in an emergency, having to drive ten minutes to a friends’ house is sometimes too far.

In this New Millenium, where there is so much media hype telling us to be afraid, knowing one’s neighbors can offer a lot of solace.

Peter Lovenheim is on tour speaking in various venues about his book. If you are lucky, you will catch him!

Do you know your neighbors? A little? A lot? How important are your neighbors in your life?

tweet me @rasjacobson

The Blessing of the Ugly Casserole Dish

photo by Stacy Lynn Baum @ flickr.com

A little nostalgia, if you will indulge me. My husband and I attended a wedding this past Saturday night: Fifteen years and two days after our own wedding day. The day after we were married, as my new husband and I were opening our wedding gifts, we quickly noticed someone had given us a used casserole dish. It was yellow and chipped; it was even a little dirty. I ranted: “Who would give us a used dish?!” I was astonished and, frankly, pretty pissed.

Then I read the card.

The casserole dish had come from a distant aunt who was in her early 90s at the time, and quite ill. Still, Aunt Bea wanted to send us something. Her husband, whom she had loved dearly, had passed away by then and she was alone. In her beautifully written penmanship, Bea explained that a dear friend had given her (and her new husband) that very casserole dish that I now had before me over fifty years earlier. She apologized about the chips and dings, but pointed out that the dish had seen her family through the good years and the lean years. That casserole dish had fed them through The Great Depression, fed their children and grandchildren. She told me that – while she no longer cooked her own meals – she still cherished the dish, but now she wanted me to have it.

Suddenly, everything changed. I no longer hated the old, used casserole dish; I cherished it. It was infused with so much meaning, and over the years I used it all the time. I always put sweet things in it: apple crisp or blueberry cobbler. So many yummy things.

Not too long ago, my casserole dish split into two pieces as I carefully washed it in the sink. It was old and fragile. Its time had come. Nevertheless, I wept. Who knew that something that I had thought represented such a thoughtless gesture would become one of my most precious possessions? It was hard to throw away the pieces.

Now whenever my husband and I attend people’s weddings — while we don’t give them something used — we nearly always give the couple a hand-thrown casserole dish, usually one made by my husband’s uncle, Earl Jacobson, a talented, local potter, and we attach a note explaining the story about the casserole dish we received on our wedding day. We always wish the bride and groom well and hope that — in the very least — they always have a pot to cook in. (Then we stick a check inside!)

It is amazing how one’s perspective can quickly change when presented with the right lens through which to view things. Ugly things can become beautiful; things that seem like curses can be blessings in disguise. Aunt Bea taught me that sometimes my eyes lie. Sometimes people have to go deeper and see with their hearts.

What is something you have unexpectedly come to cherish?