Friday, December 18, 2009

'Tis the Season...For Anxiety

I came home from my work Christmas party last night with my heart pounding out of my chest, my eyes bugging out, a pit in my stomach, and my palms weeping. Had Jason come up behind me unexpectedly at some point, I'd probably have leapt through the ceiling drywall and would still be up in our attic crawlspace somewhere.

I suspect it had something to do with the 3 refills I got on my iced tea. But I think the biggest fault for my near-panic-attack lies with the insane demands we make on ourselves between December 17th and 24th. When I got home last night, after a party that made me less than cheerful (tight quarters, expensive drinks, a white elephant exchange that took an awkward turn) I still had to do treats for Ainsley's school-day party, treats I was way too bone-tired to want to do.

I would write down all that I have to do between now and Christmas morning to remind myself, but I don't think I need reminding. My to-do list is on a constant thought-loop inside my head. It runs around all day and all night, popping up at random times like a little demon. Have you ever gotten one of those emails so popular right around Halloween where you click on a link and start to play a game, or look at song lyrics, or follow a young girl riding her bike through a perilous-looking maze and all of a sudden Linda Blair's The Exorcist face comes at you, making your soul leave your body for a few seconds? That's what's been happening to me inside my own head. But instead of a demonic child popping up to make my hair stand on end, it's a relentless stream of tasks.

It looks something like this. I'm in bed, the lights are dim, and I should be dreaming of sugarplums. And it starts off that way. Then the hijack starts.

Ahh, Ainsley was so sweet today. Sweet. Like the praline french toast I am making for Christmas morning for my side of the family. Mmmm, pralines. Which reminds me: I need brown sugar. Can't forget that. Anyway, back to Ainsley. This is such a fun age. I remember when my nephew was that age...Crap! Kyle! I still have to buy his present. Okay, okay, I'll do it this weekend. I should be able to get out Sunday. Sunday I don't have anywhere I have to be. It's even supposed to snow. Oh, how pretty. Wait! Snow! Damn! What will I do if the roads are bad? I'll have to postpone finishing my shopping I guess. There's plenty to do around here Sunday. Like wrap presents and drink hot chocolate. Oh, my God, I haven't wrapped a single thing, it's going to take hours. Okay, calm down. Calm down. It will all get done. The groceries. The 2 gifts left to buy. The wrapping. The cooking. The baking. And figure out what Jason's sisters need me to bring to his family's thing. And make it. And shop for it. And DEAR LORD IS IT JANUARY 1st YET? Where's the Tylenol PM? EEEEK!

So...yeah, my strings are tuned a little higher than usual.

Making pretzel turtles is like, the easiest thing in the world, but I struggled through it. I thought I was going to break into tears because putting a Rolo on top of a pretzel struck me as just so damn much to do.

"Jason, I think I'm dying," I said. "I'm flippin' out here."

"Too much caffeine," he said, munching on a pretzel, drinking a beer. "You'll be fine." Gosh, I hate how men don't have to do anything this time of year but buy us pretty flannel pajamas and enjoy the food.

While the kid's school treats were cooling, we turned on the TV. Glory of glories, we caught the SNL Christmas special just before "D*** in a Box". And then we saw Alec Baldwin introduce Schweddy Balls! The slow build of that skit, where you're already chuckling at the straight-laced NPR ladies and their double entendres before you even remember Alec's character's last name is Schweddy..hilarity ensues. And my stress level lowered to such a place that, after rolling around in bed for only 30 minutes, my worry demons took a break and I was able to take a short winter's nap. My eyes did fly open 10 minutes before my alarm went off because I remembered I didn't pick anything up at the store to bring to my own Christmas lunch at work and would technically need to stop on my way in. But that's just par for the yuletide course.

Bah. Humbug.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we over-schedule, over-eat, over-cook, over-buy? When do I get to over-nap? Over-Unibroue? Over-cry over a Hallmark movie? That's the kind of holiday indulgence I could really get behind, if only there were time.

Today is my last day of school of 2009, so I have that going for me. Things will get finished. It might kill me and leave me a ragged mess, but they will get finished. And on Christmas afternoon, after Santa has come, and my family has eaten and left, and all that's left are torn wrapping paper and mangled bows, I will wonder where it all went.

Such is Christmas, I guess.

This is possibly my last post before Christmas Day. Clearly, I have too much going on for my own good, and blogging will be pretty far down on my list. I will be back in time for some New Year's resolutions and hopefully some good stories from Christmas for you.

Take care of yourselves. Stop and smell the poinsettias, and will all be over before you know it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Soundtrack

This is the time of year when many bloggers take a look back on the past twelve months and try to figure out what it all means. Even non-bloggers get in on the act with the annual family letter tucked into a Christmas card, letting all friends and extended relations know what's been going on in their lives: births, deaths, joys, and sorrows. It's a lovely tradition.

2009 is not going to go down as one of my better years, and I have told most of my stories here already. I've tried several times in the past couple of weeks to either compose a newsy Christmas letter to go in the same envelope as our holiday cards (this year, our cards show Ainsley happily snuggled into a Snuggie reading a book) or to write a comedic look back on the blog. But I have a hard time finding the right tone; it's easy to be bitter about a year that had more downs than ups and it doesn't feel appropriate to force a light-heartedness that I don't really feel as I look back at 2009.

I wouldn't bother with the year-end navel-gazing at all except that every time I revisit the major events of my life in 2009, I keep hearing music. Different parts of my life this year had their own theme song. Some are happy, some sad. But that's life, right?

So instead of a holiday letter or a soggy year-end retrospective, I offer you my life's mixtape from 2009. My soundtrack, if you will. A brief explanation of what each song represents is included, as well as a link to some way of hearing each song should you want to capture the mood. Enjoy!

The Dixie Chicks, "Sin Wagon"

Not a new song (not many of these are), but new to Rock Band last winter. Before RB, this was just a Dixie Chicks song that I kinda liked but didn't love. But now it makes me think of a January snow storm where I practiced the vocal with guitar in true Chicks-style during my snow days off and of our "band" performing this song on cold, dreary Saturday nights at the request of my number one fan, Ainsley. "Sing 'Sin Wagon'!" she still says anytime we get Rock Band out. I know I'm no Natalie Maines, but hearing this song makes me happy that my daughter thinks I am.

Kidz Bop, "Hey There Delilah"

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I bought Ainsley her first Kidz Bop CD from a school fundraiser. It was their Valentine CD, and among the gems was this cover from the Plain White T's. 99% of Kidz Bop songs are comically bad at best and grating at worst, but Ainsley loves them. And this one is, in my humble opinion, almost bearable. One of my favorite memories of 2009 is the day I heard Ainsley's little lyric singing voice rocking a probably-unintentional harmony to the chorus from the back seat. I don't know why, but it makes me tear up a little to this day. Possibly because the adult who sings with the kids is so bad.

Miley Cyrus, "The Climb" and "Butterfly Fly Away"

Yeah, I know. I'm not proud of it, either. But I actually like the Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack. Ainsley and I saw the movie on a freakishly warm Sunday in April when life was not so grand; it was becoming clear that Jason's mom wasn't going to bounce back like she had done so many times in the past. To get our mind off of it and to give Jason a day to do what he needed to do, we had a girls' movie day. And stopped at Tar-Jay to get the CD on the way home. And then I hid my tears when "Butterfly Fly Away" came on because it made me think of my little butterfly and her daddy. That is, by far, the best song Billy Ray has ever been a part of. (Is that really a compliment?)

The Beatles, "In My Life"

I am almost as ashamed to admit this as I am to admit I like Miley Cyrus sometimes: this song was barely a blip on my radar before May of this year. It's on one of the Beatles compilation CD sets I have, and it's one of those songs I never really listened to before. As we were saying goodbye to Jason's mom in May, Jason's brother chose this song to go on the memorial slideshow that played at the funeral home. As moments from Kathie's life flashed on the screen--her with her dear late husband, with her kids, her grandkids--I was struck by how perfect this song is for her. She was a huge Beatles fan and was the only person I've ever known who got to be one of the screaming girls you see in concert footage, one of those lucky people who got to see them in person. I'll never hear it again without thinking of her, not with the grief that marked that week in May, but with a smile for how much she loved life and for how many people loved her.

Dave Matthews Band, "Funny the Way It Is" and "You and Me"

I never really got the love for DMB until a rainy Tuesday night in June, my first week of summer vacation, when I finally got to see them in concert. It was almost a religious experience and was one of the best times of my life. Maybe I just needed a night out with my husband after all we'd just been through; maybe I've always been a bigger Dave fan than I liked to let on. But when the band broke into "Funny the Way It Is" from Big Whiskey, I felt transported. I'm pretty sure I had an out-of-body experience. It could have just been a contact high--who knows? "You and Me", another great track from the newest album, has become one of my all-time favorite love songs. It's the kind of song you wish someone had written for you--not cheesy and overly sentimental, but honest and affectionate.

Michael Franti, "Say Hey (I Love You)"

The first and second times I heard this song I was in the Caribbean, having a drink, soaking up the sun. The perfect song for that, no? After we got home from the cruise we kept hearing this song, and I haven't gotten tired of it. When it plays in the car, Ainsley and I sing along, loudly, and get jiggy with it. "This is that song we heard on the cruise!" Ainsley says. "I know!" I say, and we get lost together in memories of Half Moon Cay and the ship's water slide.

Phineas and Ferb, "Gitchi Gitchi Goo"

Phineas and Ferb became a phenomenon in the Cranky house this summer and as school started. It's a rare kids' show that gets Jason and I to stop what we're doing and watch new episodes (or old favorites) with Ainsley. Part of the appeal of this show is the music; most episodes feature at least one original song that pokes fun at or cleverly imitates a musical genre. There are many songs that I would count as awesome from the show's soundtrack CD, but this one (which gets stuck to your brain like wallpaper) from the episode where they attempt to create the quintessential pop hit and become one-hit wonders is the best of the bunch.

The Cast of Glee, "Don't Stop Believing"

I know the pilot aired last spring and this is old news by now, but good Lord, does this song make me all upbeat and cheerful and totally unlike myself. It doesn't hurt that there's at least one musical number every episode that has the same exact effect on me. This song will also always remind me of the first "adult" show that Ainsley fell in love with. Darn you, American Idol, for putting the rest of the Glee season on hold until April.

Mercedes from Glee, "Bust Your Windows"

From the moment details about the Tiger Woods "car wreck" began to emerge, I started thinking about this song. Now any time I see a news story about the continuing scandal and the fallout, this song plays in my head. And sometimes I sing it out loud, just to remind Jason that should he ever stray, I just might bust the windows out his Prius.

Michael Jackson, "Will You Be There"

I took Michael Jackson's death pretty hard, in a way that was fairly irrational since I had never personally met the man and certainly was not a friend. And yet it sure felt that way. After he died as I dragged out the few CDs of his that I own, and started sharing videos with Ainsley to show her who this person was everyone was getting so upset about, and began talking with our friends, I remembered this song. I didn't have it on CD and couldn't immediately remember the title. Jason and I just wanted to hear "the Free Willy" song. Pretty soon we were hearing it everywhere--Jennifer Hudson's from-the-gut rendition at MJ's memorial, an over-the-top performance at a flashy cruise-ship show, a dance at a friend's August wedding reception. It went from that song that I could barely remember to the one that kinda became the theme song of our summer.

The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again"

It used to be, we hated it when Rock Band dealt us this song during a random set list. But after Jason got promoted this year and became a member of middle management, I wanted to play it. You know, for the new boss. Who I hear is the same as the old boss. (And let's just skip the link to this one in honor of it being 10 minutes long, mmkay? And just have me link to the David Caruso CSI Miami one-liners with the "Won't Get Fooled Again" rock-scream after each one? You're welcome.)

That's my 2009 soundtrack. What songs are on yours? Please link so I can listen as I read your comments.

Friday, December 11, 2009


There are moments as Ainsley's mom when I really wish I could bottle her sweetness and save it for those teenage years to come when she's, well, less than sweet.

Maybe it's because she's trying to lobby for more Christmas presents. Maybe she's just really in the Christmas spirit. Whatever the reason, her heart or her shoes, she was an absolute angel this morning. When her alarm went off, rather than making me practically drag her out of bed, she threw back the covers and ran into the bathroom before I knew what had happened. She finished her breakfast with 5 minutes to spare and made a big show of moving more like a hare and less like a tortoise.

This is not how mornings usually go in Casa Cranky.

"Who are you, and what have you done with Ainsley?"

"I have decided. I want to be helpful to you today. I want to be nice to you."

And the way she said it...for those of you have seen Up! (and if you haven't, why on earth not?), she said it the way Dug the dog says my favorite line from that whole movie: "I hid under the porch, because I love you."

And just like that line from the movie, Ainsley's words made me melt into a big puddle of "Awwww."

If that were not enough, when she got here at school she wrote the following message on the portable whiteboard I keep out in the research side of the library:

Dear Mommy,
I will miss you at school today.



All day today, teachers who have come into the library have commented on the note.

"Ah, a note," said one staff member whose daughter is now in middle school. "You still get those. I miss those days."

I know that I will, too. I took a picture of this precious note on my cell phone (seeing more and more why they make phones with cameras) so that, when Ainsley is a nose-pierced, eye-rolling, pink-haired rebellious teenager who pretends I don't exist, I can be reminded of the joy she brought me one cold, December morning when all she wanted to do was be nice and make her Mommy happy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Wow. That went fast.

I keep hearing that we're at the end of a decade. It kinda crept up on me. I guess I am still one of those obnoxious people who believes a decade doesn't really start until the year ends in a 1 and we've got until the end of 2010 before we really start looking back at the "Aughts" or whatever the hell we're supposed to call this decade. But whatever. I'll play along.

First, though...seriously. What do we call this decade? The Single Digits? The "Ohs"? What? I need to know this.

This decade was for me, and I am guessing for most of you who are my age, the decade of "Becoming." We all became things this decade we weren't before. I became a school librarian. Then a home owner. And a mom. Then a cancer survivor. And a mourner.

Some of the things I became this decade were joyful. Some were not. But every change that occurred, every step I took whether it was uphill or down, led me to this place where I am: full-fledged adulthood. Adulthood doesn't begin with a set age; it doesn't necessarily happen when you turn 18 or 21. It happens that first day that you fully take charge of your life and look around and realize that you are 100% fully responsible for yourself. That you are your own safety net. That other people count on you besides just yourself.

And that certainly happened to me this decade.

I thought I became an adult when I became a mom. I became responsible for a tiny, helpless person who depended on me for everything. But we all know (especially those of us who work in a high school with a school-run daycare next door) that just because you're a mom doesn't mean you're a responsible adult. Especially in the beginning, when I didn't know what the hell I was doing and the post-partum depression was causing me to have as many tantrums as Ainsley, I felt more like I was playing house than being a good parent.

Then I thought I arrived into full adulthood when I started cancer treatment. But at that time, I still had both of my parents to help me through. My dad helped us financially and my mom helped me physically, even coming over one afternoon following biopsy surgery to give me a bath because I was too weak to do it myself. Cancer can make anyone feel like a helpless child again.

No, all these things were just stepping stones on my journey. But the day this decade that I realized I had arrived into my place in the world was the day I stood in the kitchen of the house I grew up in and called my dad's brothers and sister to tell them he'd passed away. When it came time to do this and to start making funeral arrangements, my mom and sister looked to me.

"We need you," they said. And I did what needed to be done. As the youngest child in my family, I had never before been called to take care of any of them; they had all taken care of me. But now I had to grow up. They weren't strong enough in that moment. I was. And the man who had been my lifeline the past few years, the person I knew would bail Jason and I out if we ever found ourselves in trouble of any kind, was gone.

It was up to me from now on.

With Jason's mom passing away in May, Jason and I are in a place where we only have one parent left between us. We talk about how this feels sometimes; it feels like we're next in line. The buck stops here. It's a sad, lonely place, but an empowering one, too. We lean on each other, because we're almost all we've got. We're flying without a net, with no one to catch us if we fall.

We're not kids anymore. I can still say I am someone's daughter because my mother is still here; Jason no longer has that label. He is a father, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a boss. It's no longer about us.

We are grownups.

What have you taken away from this decade, whatever we're deciding to call it? What did you become?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Preparing for Pom-Poms

So, the kid wants to cheerlead this winter.

This is a world I know nothing about, and quite frankly, I am frightened.

One of our local youth sports leagues sent flyers to every kid at Ainsley's school about their boys' and girls' basketball and cheerleading programs this winter. I let Ainsley choose one outside-of-school activity each season, and for years now she's chosen swimming. But now she has decided she's burned out with swimming for a little while ("Mommy, I am so over swimming right now," were her exact words) and wants to trade her swim cap in for pom-poms.

It's a non-competitive league where the boys and girls playing basketball just learn the fundamentals and get to wear a team uniform and play shortened games on Saturday mornings at a local middle school. The girls trying their hand at cheerleading get to wear cute uniforms and learn some sideline cheers and have to buy hairbows and socks in their team color and hopefully, for sake of her twice-concussioned head, stay on the floor and not in any kind of pyramid formations.

She did a beginners basketball camp last winter and loved it so I was really hoping, with her above-average height, that she would give basketball a try. But the flyer had her at "registration fee includes uniforms and pom-poms."

I really don't know what I'm getting us into here. This is a world I was never part of, and never really wanted to be a part of (sometimes I think I'm a lot better at something than I am, but I always knew I was pretty sucky at tumbling, being upbeat and cheery, and doing coordinated dance moves, which pretty much took me out of the running for being a cheerleader). I have no idea whether the other moms will just show up to the Saturday games in the spirit of fun or if there will be "cheer moms" armed with hair spray and freaking out if little Madison's arms aren't extended enough during "We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do!" And I can't help but worry that Ainsley is going to really, really like this and want to do it the rest of her childhood. Not because I don't approve of cheerleading as an activity, but because when she gets to the point where she's flipping through the air in basket tosses, I'm going to think about the study I heard about where if someone gets three or more lifetime concussions, their risk for permanent brain damage and dementia goes way up. We're already to two concussions. I'd much prefer her doing activities where her feet stay firmly on the ground (or underwater.)

She's so jazzed to do it, though, that I am willing to give it a try. At the very least, I am thinking it will give me some good blogging material.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Welcome to the 21st Century

I catch a lot of hell over my old cell phone.

For about a year, I have been torn between being ashamed of it and not even wanting to let people see it, to whipping it out with pride because it shows that I am no slave to modern cellular telephonic technology. It's an older (quite a bit older) boxy Nokia with a screen not much bigger than a quarter. It makes and receives calls (when I bother to keep it charged, anyway) and if I am really diligent, I can send texts (it has no keyboard, so I have to text in the new old-fashioned way.)

But it's not the type of phone that all my friends and colleagues and even my own mother carry. It has no camera or videocamera and it doesn't flip open into a keyboard and it doesn't have fun ringtones (I was thrilled when I first got it and bought an "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" ringtone that sounded like an 8-year-old was playing it on a toy keyboard.) I'm mostly okay with that; as Jason will happily tell anyone who listens, this phone of mine, which I procured to carry around for emergencies and the possibility of car accidents, is seldom charged and therefore much less of an emergency cellphone and much more of an emergency paperweight.

Friends ask me, "Hey, what's your cellphone number? I'm updating my contacts." And I have to think long and hard about what my number is, usually giving them Jason's digits first before I realize my mistake. When they look at me weird, I pull out my ancient, un-cool phone.

"Good Lord," the friend sometimes says. "Look at that thing."

"But it has a light on it!" And I show them my phone's coolest feature: a little stick-on LED cellphone flashlight I "won" for helping Ainsley sell something or other at school in kindergarten.

So, yeah, I don't really get into phones.

At least, I didn't used to. But after a good friend got a smart phone, and my sister got an i-Phone, and the whole world it seems is operating on the notion that we must be reachable every single second of every single day, I've been hit by an itch for a new phone.

This goes against my nature because I am seriously annoyed by cell phones. I hate it when people are on their phones in the grocery store, the shopping mall, meetings, restaurants, etc. I think it sends a serious air of, "I am just so gosh-darned important that not only can this call about what my cat was doing yesterday NOT WAIT, but the whole public arena I'm in must hear it as well!" I have no problem with people who must be on their phones frequently in public because it's an essential part of their job. But if you're discussing your upcoming hemorrhoid surgery on the phone at the table next to me while I am trying to enjoy some french toast on a Saturday morning at First Watch, or you have to text at the table while everyone around you is trying to engage you in conversation, well, then, I think you're a douchebag.

But peer pressure is strong, and last week when Jason's just-as-old-but-infinitely-cooler phone began acting up, I lobbied for a new phone for myself, too.

"Can I can I can I please please pleeeeeeze...." I said, doing my best Ainsley impersonation.

"Why do you need a new phone?" he said, doing his best "Dad" impersonation. "The one you have is never charged."


But lo and behold, we found a plan where we could both get new phones (not smart phones, but smarter than our old ones) and a new plan for cheaper than we were currently paying. Oh, joy!

So now I have this new phone. And I get why people like cell phones, at least initially: they are really, really fun toys.

Because if you want to get right down to it that's the only thing that separates my former dinosaur phone from this pretty new red one. It's no lighter and not much thinner than the relic I was carrying, so it doesn't gain points there. But it has so many features that I've been a little overwhelmed in a good way. It does have a camera (still don't know why that has to be on every phone now, but it did come in handy the other night when Ainsley was doing something cute and my real camera wasn't on my person). I got some really cool musical ringtones that I can customize: a Dave Matthews Band song for when Jason calls, "Coal Miner's Daughter" for when my mom calls, and a little Glee for everyone else. The screen is big enough that I can put a wallpaper on there to further enhance my phone-using experience (I'm going back and forth between Phineas and Ferb and the UK logo). I've had lots of fun personalizing it. It's a great little toy. I can see why people and their phones are literally attached at the hip.

And yet the one time this week that Jason did need to reach me on it, that it needed to be a device which makes and receives calls and nothing else, it was (you guessed it) sitting in my purse with a dead battery.

But the darn thing sure is pretty.

I have promised to be a better cell phone user and keep it charged. After all, my new ringtones won't be very fun if I never get to hear them. And yet a part of me doesn't want to go down that road. If I start encouraging people to reach me on it so that I occasionally have that joy of, "Oooh, I hear 'Defying Gravity'! Someone loves me and must really need to talk to me RIGHT NOW!", I also have to deal with people calling me when I'm at the grocery store, or in a restaurant, or in a movie theater even though I was pretty sure I put it on vibrate, and then I'll become a douchebag. It's a treacherous path.

Ooh, gotta go. My phone's playing my song.