Monday, March 29, 2010

Cheerfest! Exclamation Point!

For my first paragraph, I'm going to finish every sentence with an exclamation point! Because I spent all day Saturday at a thing called Cheerfest which was a big cheerleading exhibition for all the squads in Ainsley's league! And there was just so much excitement and cheer and Spirit (with a capital S!) there that the voice inside my head is saying everything like a cheer! Go, lunch! H-O-T-T-O-G-O my roast beef is hot to go! Say what!? Woot, hot to go!

Okay, that's totally out of my system. Almost!

It was great seeing my kid finish out her first cheer season doing a great job in her routine and ending it all with a big smile on her face. And watching the youngest squads doing their precious little cheers (with most of their signs upside down) was so very cute it made me actually tear up with adoration of children not my own. But I learned something at this event, which took up all of our morning and most of our afternoon, something that will serve me well if this is what Ainsley's going to want to do for a few more winters:

Cheer parents are crazy.

I've heard stories about soccer moms and even swim moms in our area being completely and totally berserk and pushing their kids to be little Olympians before they're eight years old and chewing out referees and getting private coaching and in general taking something that is supposed to be fun for their child and turning it into a blood sport. I had no idea that cheer parents (not just moms--the dads were nuts, too) in a league where the cheerleaders don't even compete (the flyer I got called it "Just For Fun"--don't know what flyer these other crackerjacks were reading) would be so...serious.

"Do you have your water-bottle shakers?" a co-worker asked me on Friday. Her teenage daughter is an assistant-coach for one of the youngest squads.

"Do I have my what now?"

"Your water-bottle shakers. You know, where you take an empty water bottle and fill it halfway with beads in Ainsley's team colors so you can shake it when she takes the floor. Most of the cheer parents will have them."

"I think Jason and I are just going to go and quietly observe this year. We're new. We're just going to take it all in and see what all the fuss is about."

She gave me a sympathetic smile that said, "You have no idea what you're in for, but best of luck to you."

Her smile was right.

When Jason and I got there, all the parents were huddled into the cafeteria of the school hosting the event. Parents did have water-bottle shakers, and not just half-assed ones that simply consisted of an empty bottle and something inside to rattle and make noise. That would have been for amateurs. No, these "spirit bottles" had custom-printed labels on them in the girl's team colors and sometimes with the girl's picture, and usually neatly tied pieces of curling ribbon around the neck in the team colors. Most had craft beads inside, which to me seemed a pretty easy way of making some noise with the team colors. Others, though, had dyed beans inside them. Think about that for a minute. Beans. That had been dyed. Had I made a "spirit bottle" I would have just thrown some white navy beans in there and called it a day. But I would not have been a dedicated, crazy cheer parent. They DYE their beans. For reals. I don't even know how one would DO this.

It just made me want a "spirit bottle" of my own. Preferably filled with a margarita.

Some parents were wearing t-shirts in the kid's team colors that had been custom-made with their cheerleader's picture and words of encouragement. Parents spent money to wear t-shirts saying, "Hayleigh's Fan Club!" or "Extreme Cheer Parent of Kaitlynn!" Those without the where-with-all to have custom t-shirts at least dressed in their kid's team color with huge pin-on buttons showing their child's picture. Those that didn't have easy access to a button maker wore a megaphone pin with their kid's name artfully written on it. Even the dads wore these things. Most carried some kind of sign or banner that wasn't just made with dollar-store posterboard and a Sharpie; some were felt or cloth and looked like something you'd find at a craft fair. Others simply had to have been made at a print shop; they were on the same kind of plastic board used for political yard signs.

And then there was me and Jason.

I was just proud of myself that I got Ainsley to the event good and on-time and with her uniform neatly on her body and her hair tied into a tight ponytail. I thought I had done my job. There were many, many other things we would have liked to have done for 5 hours on a sunny Saturday, but we were there, proudly supporting our daughter. Is that not enough?

No, apparently. No, it's not.

"One of these things is not like the others," I said to Jason as we sat at a table in our team's designated area, looking at how we didn't quite fit in with the spirited chaos around us. There was a clear difference between the parents of Ainsley's squad and the rest of the parents. We were all just there; everybody else was there with flair.

Her squad always has struck me as the rag-tag misfits of the league. Kind of like the Bad News Bears, or the Wildcats in that great Goldie Hawn movie of the 80s (remember their cheerleaders? That's kind of how Ainsley's squad looked most games.) They were formed a month after the rest of the squads because they had initially signed up for another local instructional league, which ultimately hadn't had enough girls to form a team. The rival league, out of the goodness of their hearts and a healthy sense of capitalism, absorbed the now-defunct league. Most on Ainsley's team had never cheered before and were just along for the ride.

And oh, what a ride for the kids and their unsuspecting parents.

I was feeling like a guppy in the shark tank until they herded us to the gyms and got us seated for the squads' grand procession into the gym. I might not have had a spirit bottle, or a spirit t-shirt, or a megaphone pin, but I have a loud voice. And I can holler for my kid as well as anybody who's spent hundreds of dollars on custom clothes and accessories to cheer on a 7-year-old who, allegedly, is just doing this "for fun." I am a little bit white trash, after all. I know how to make a scene and make sure everybody knows which kid is mine.

If Ainsley felt at all slighted by a lack of outward displays of spirit from her parents, it didn't show. Her small squad, which had not been looking good on their long, complex floor routine in their last practice, pulled it off and looked as good as the bigger squads who had a month more to practice. Our little cheerleader looked great out there, if I do say so myself. Her coach made each girl a simple rattle bottle that they used to cheer on other teams, and gave them each a little white "cheer bear" dressed in the squad's colors after the award ceremony. It beat the heck out of the sad little carnation her dad and I bought for her last-minute after noticing all the other parents walking in with bouquets of roses to give to their girls after they finished. And that's fine by me.

Ainsley already is looking forward to next year and is making up her own cheers to bide the time until next winter (she tried some of them out during the UK game Saturday, but sadly, they did no magic.) So next March, I guess we'll be back at Cheerfest, better prepared.

Though I draw the line at t-shirts that say, "Extreme Cheer Parent!"

Friday, March 26, 2010

Out Of The Mouth of Ains: The P.E. Award

Friday was 3rd quarter awards day at the kid's elementary school, and she brought home her first actual honor (other than honor roll, which pretty much every kid in her class is on). It's an award I never, ever got in all my years of schooling:

A certificate of excellence in physical education.

"Are you sure she's yours?" a friend of mine asked. Ha.

I was so proud of her, and she was proud of herself. She loves gym, and has a really good teacher who makes the kids use their brains as well as their bodies in her activities. She taught them the "Thriller" dance during one class this year, for goodness sakes; if only my elementary P.E. teacher had been so cool.

Though more coordinated than I am, for sure, I've never really seen Ainsley as gifted athletically. It was a pleasant surprise for her to get that award, and I asked her if she knew why she got it or if the teacher said anything about her when she gave her the award.

Ains thought for a minute.

"I think I got it because of my positive attitude."

Well, there you go.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We're All In A Hurry. That's Why It's Called The EXPRESS Lane.

In case y'all haven't noticed, I have a short fuse. I never blow up in public, but one of these days I'm going to. And when I do, it will be freakin' epic.

And it will probably happen in a grocery store.

Yesterday I stopped at the Kroger close to my work to pick up 15 items or less. Much less; my little half-cart (I love these things; best grocery innovation since self-checkout) only had 8 items by the time I pulled myself and the kid into the only open express lane.

I was the last in my line. Three shoppers ahead of me. Blurg.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the walky-talky-carrying manager.

"Ma'am," she whispered. "She's about to open up on 2 if you want to step over."

My favorite thing to hear in a grocery store! Hurrah!

2 is the second express lane in this Kroger and was right next door to my current lane, so Ains and I just swivelled our little cart out and pointed it to our right...

...When an older lady completely jumped ahead of us to be first in the new line.

I hate it when people do this, but technically it doesn't break any rules. The cashier's light was on; no one was in line. The older lady saw an opening and took it, even though I had been waiting in another line longer. However, this was not what nearly sent me over the edge.

I had moved Ainsley and our cart right there at the edge of the conveyor in this freshly-opened lane. The end of this trip was within reach. Until...

"Do you mind if I go ahead of you?" A lady holding a small container of potato salad whizzed by me and before I could even say yay or nay, plopped her item on the belt, making her the second in line.

That. Bitch.

I stood there in disbelief. Seriously, lady? Seriously?

There is an unspoken rule of grocery etiquette that if you have a crapload of stuff in your cart, and you notice that the poor sap behind is just holding one lonely item, you let that person go ahead of you. It's just considerate.

However, when you're in the so-called express lane, where many people are just holding one lonely item, and no one (except the d-bags of the world) has more than 15, this rule is null and void. Sorry; we're all in a hurry. That's why it's called the frickin' express lane. We all have just a few items. Your bag of bread does not trump my 8 small items which, when on the conveyor, take up only 1 square foot of space and will be rung up in under 30 seconds. You don't get to play through here.

Especially when you don't let me veto you and you just push your way past me. Ho.

I fumed. I had been chosen by the cashier. Singled out. Tapped on the shoulder and told to move to 2. It's like I had been touched by Jacob and told I was a candidate (sorry, if you don't watch Lost you might not get that.) And yet there I was, third in the line. Third! Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I should have said something. But would it have been worth it? Probably not. Potato Salad Lady is clearly self-important and would not have cared.

As her tater salad was being rung up, I looked at the line I had just come from, the one I left at the manager's urging.

Empty. It was empty. All the people ahead of me were already through, and had I stayed, I would have gotten out before the a-hole in front of me.

Son of a.

"Well, Ains," I said, loudly enough that Potato Salad-Line Cutter Lady could hear. Because I heart passive-aggressivism. "We should have just stayed in the line we were in. This is ridiculous."

Apparently she heard. As she grabbed her bag, she turned toward me.

"Thanks again for letting me go ahead of you."

Thanks my butt. Like you gave me a choice. She had some nerve, being all nice about it.

I haven't talked about this much, but I have recently taken up nightly meditation to try to calm my fool self down. To try to keep the little things from bothering me. To put life in perspective. But any emotional capital I had built up totally got spent at exactly 3:44 yesterday afternoon. It kind of ruined my day, which is mostly a fault of mine, but is also because Potato Salad Lady is a tool.

Outwardly, though, I was fine. I didn't blow up. (I blogged instead!)

But hear this, shoppers. And hear it well. One day the powder keg is going to blow, and somebody will feel my wrath.

One of these days...Pow, Alice! Right to the moon! And out of the express lane.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Giggles

"Mommy, I got a yellow ticket today."

I hear this from Ainsley more than I'd like. Her class's disciplinary system rewards good daily behavior with green tickets and issues yellow, orange, and red tickets for infractions. Yellow is a lower-level offense, like talking or not focusing on your daily work. So unfortunately we see yellow quite a bit.

"What did you do this time?"

"I got the giggles during mass. Something or somebody was making a squeaking sound and it made me laugh and I tried really hard to hold it in but I couldn't."

She was being so serious and earnest; I've never seen her be so sad over a ticket before. Ainsley is devout for a 7-year-old and takes good behavior in church very seriously. I could tell she was upset at herself for being "bad" in the one place she knows she has to be at her best.

As Ainsley was telling me this after school, a fellow teacher and friend of mine was sitting at one of the library's computers. When she heard Ainsley telling me her woeful tale, she caught my eye and started laughing herself.

"I can't tell you the number of times I got in trouble for being loud in mass at school," this former Catholic schoolgirl said after Ainsley walked back into my office to do homework, looking like a whipped puppy. My teacher friend held out her hand at around chest level. "My stack of discipline referrals was probably THIS high."

And yet she turned out alright.

I can't get too mad at the kid over this one. Who among us hasn't gotten the giggles in a completely inappropriate situation? It's not exactly something you can control. Once it starts, you can't stop it. You can't un-ring that bell.

I keep a Tweety PEZ dispenser on my desk at work in honor of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry makes Elaine start laughing at a piano recital with a similar dispenser. Is a Tweety PEZ dispenser funny, in and of itself? No. But if you've ever been made to crack up somewhere where you're really supposed to be quiet, you know that it doesn't have to be something hilarious that sets you off. Even something just curious or mildly amusing can get you going, and just knowing that the social situation you're in demands absolute silence makes the laughter pour out. It's like the little bubbles that come out of a diver's tank underwater; the teeny bubbles erupt and just get bigger and bigger the closer they get to the surface.

And you just can't stop them from escaping.

Being a teacher, it happens almost daily that something makes me want to laugh out loud when I really, really should not. When you teach, you have to get good at controlling 2 things and saving their release for a time you can leave the classroom: laughter, and your bladder. I've gotten good at both. But as a kid I was prone to crack-ups. I was that kid who could be sent over the edge and into hysterics by something like the class clown making an animal noise during a lesson or a well-told fart joke at lunch, so I have no room to go all crazy over Ainsley's infraction.

After all, I, along with my mom, dad, and mom's cousin Emily, did crack up once at the most inappropriate place of all: my maternal grandmother's funeral.

When mom's mom died suddenly of a heart attack when I was in the 6th grade, we were devastated. She was a great woman. Sitting at the funeral home shortly before the service was about to begin, the grief shared between me, my mom, dad, and sister, and mom's cousin-but-also-best-friend was palpable.

Cue one of mom's other cousins, to this day one of the most stylish and glamorous women I've ever known personally, up the aisle of the funeral home to check on how we were doing. In her youth, she always reminded me of a young Liz Taylor; stunning pale eyes, dark hair, and a wealth of diamonds on display.

This woman also had bold tastes in clothing, and even a funeral could not dampen her adventurous fashion spirit. Around her neck she wore one of those over-the-top fox (not faux) fur scarves with the poor animal's head and tail still attached. She looked like a cast member from Dynasty.

She paid her condolences, chatted a while, and then moved up the aisle ahead of us to get to a seat.

"Well," my dad said quietly when we could no longer hear the click-clack of her high-heeled shoes. "Shirley's got her cat on today."

"Oh, Chuck!" mom said, at first appalled at his attempt to make a funny at such a serious moment. But then mom's cousin started giggling. Dad looked down at his lap and smiled. I tried to hold a laugh back behind a tissue. Mom's shoulders began to shake with something other than sobs.

We carried on until the preacher got up to start the service, all the while getting dirty looks from other relatives who did not see the humor in attending the funeral of such a wonderful lady as my mamaw. Tears of grief are acceptable in such a place; tears of laughter aren't. (Though when we talked about the situation on the long drive back to northern Kentucky, mom said that mamaw had a sense of humor and would have been laughing right along with us.)

So compared to how we deal with other disciplinary infractions from school, Ainsley got off pretty light for giggling during church. Jason told me that he, too, got in trouble a lot for laughing during mass; he and his older brothers made a game of trying to make the others break up during the service. Shocker.

We just told her to try to contain herself next time. She promised to. But given her family history...she will lose control again. It's not "if", but "when."

When's the last time you really cracked yourself up in a place or at an event where laughter isn't appropriate? Were you able to stop yourself, or did you make a scene deserving of a Tweety PEZ dispenser award of honor?

Friday, March 19, 2010


This originally posted March 19, 2007. I am re-posting both parts today in honor of a very special date.

March 19 is an anniversary date for me. That one date marks two separate events 13 years apart that divide my life into chapters.

On March 19, 1990, Jason and I became a couple. I can't really call it our dating anniversary, because our first date would actually come a month later and was pretty anti-climactic given everything that had already happened to that point. And if it hadn't been for Harry and Sally, we probably wouldn't have hooked up at all.

We were only sophomores, but we had been friends for years. We even had a brief 7th-grade relationship where we called each other "boyfriend" and "girlfriend," but at 13 it meant little more than holding hands and having someone to slow-dance with at the spring dance. We were both involved in music at school, and we found ourselves together a lot through our middle- and high-school careers. Sometimes we were competitors, other times collaborators, and by late winter of our sophomore year, we were partners in speech and drama competitions, performing a cut from When Harry Met Sally for duo acting at the state tournament.

Whether it was the power of suggestion from that scene we did from a movie about two friends who fall in love, or whether it was inevitable given how much our paths had crossed over the years, I started to look at Jason differently. When I made a comment to him that February that "Valentine's Day doesn't mean anything," (a comment made because at that point the only person I had ever gotten a V-Day gift from was my mom) he responded by suprising me with a rather suggestive (but humorous) Valentine card. The card was addressed to "Sally" and was signed "from Harry." I didn't know what to think. Was this real, or was it just a joke in reference to those two characters we had had to assume?

I called a girlfriend with infinitely more boy smarts than I had and asked, "What does this mean?"

"It means he likes you, you idiot."

And then I knew: I had fallen for him, too.

Another month of flirting and wondering and second-guessing went by, and on the late afternoon of March 19, after practicing our duo scene and while I was waiting for my mom to pick me up, we found ourselves alone in our high-school band room. There was uncomfortable silence. Then he told me he loved me. Wow. For a few seconds, I think I forgot to breathe. Somehow I managed to tell him that I loved him, too, and then I left. And that, as they say, was that. I don't think we so much as hugged after our big revelation. But I didn't need a big "Ross and Rachel" moment to know that we were official. And even though I had a feeling that this was it, that we were for keeps, I could not have guessed where our road would lead us on that same date, 13 years later....

To be continued...

Anniversaries, Part 2

Continued from March 19
Written originally in 2007; it's actually been 7 years now since this day! Woohoo!

Seventeen years ago today, my best friend and I took our first steps on a road that would eventually lead us to get married and have our beautiful daughter. Four years ago today, I passed another milestone: I had my first chemotherapy treatment.

When Ainsley was only 6 months old, I found out that I had stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma. I had discovered lumps under my arms before she was even born, but after being misdiagnosed for months the cancer had spread to almost every lymph node group in my chest. This was the bad news; the good news is that Hodgkin's is one of the most curable cancers, even in more advanced stages.

I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to beat it. Like any cancer patient, though, I was afraid of the chemo. I knew only a few things going in: I knew I would have four different chemo drugs plus some other medicines to counter the chemo side effects on a four-hour-plus drip once every two weeks. I knew I would probably lose my hair, and that I would feel nauseated and fatigued. And I knew my husband would be by my side.

What I didn't know was how much fun a little Ativan can make the whole chemotherapy experience.

The first part of that day, I had to have a bone marrow biopsy. When I was scheduled for this procedure, I was asked whether or not I wanted to be sedated. Now, I'm someone who tried really hard to have a drugless childbirth and who hates feeling groggy and out of touch. But this was a no-brainer. Who really says, "No, thanks, I want you to drill a hole in my pelvis and extract tissue from my insides with a really big needle without the benefit of medication"? So as soon as I arrived that morning, they got me going with an IV full of calm and forgetfulness. That's the thing they tell you with Ativan--it allegedly makes you forget all the crazy stuff your doctor is doing to you so if you ever have to go through that again you don't run away screaming with your paper gown flapping in the breeze.

Whether or not this is true depends on the timing of the Ativan. I hadn't been on the drip for very long before the doctor came in with the corkscrew and some lab slides, so I remember more than I'd like about the biopsy. For most of the chemo, though, I just have to take Jason's word for it.

I remember curling up in a ball and feeling a little stick. Wow, I thought, this doesn't hurt bad at all. Then the doctor informed me he had just done the first shot to numb the area. Darn. I knew it couldn't possibly be that easy. There was itense pressure on my hip as the real needle went in. It was almost more than I could take without crying out. I closed my eyes, and in my head, I saw the doctor pulling and pulling a bright red magician's scarf from my hip, and the more he pulled on it the more I felt my very life-force being pulled from all the way down in my toes. Finally, in my drug-induced hallucination, I saw him wave the end of the scarf and proclaim, "I've got it!" It was over. But 4 years later, I can still feel that pull as the marrow was being sucked up into the syringe.

And then memory starts to fade. I remember that I had a very good (and very funny) nurse. I remember getting up to go to the bathroom, and even though I thought I was sitting down on the toilet, completely missing it and peeing all over the floor (and since they had just pushed the most toxic chemo drug in my cocktail, the nurses had to put on their haz-mat gear to clean up my deadly bodily fluids.) The rest Jason has filled in for me. According to him, I got fixated on the anti-nausea medicine and insisted that the nurse hadn't infused it and proceeded to ask her about every ten minutes. Fran, the nurse, just went along with me and made good-natured fun of my altered state with my husband. They had a lot of fun at my expense that day, apparently. I also know from today's news reports that 4 years ago today we also entered into combat in Iraq, and Jason is surprised every year when this is news to me. We were together when the first reports about the war started coming in that day, but that memory has also been erased by Ativan. And I must indeed have had my anti-nausea meds--though it makes my stomach feel a little icky even now that chemo is long over, Jason says I requested a burger and salad from Wendy's on the way home.

I don't need to remember the details to remember that I had never felt closer to my husband than I did on that day, our lucky-number-thirteenth "dating" anniversary. This man, who does not like blood and gore and big, scary needles, sat right there with me through the biopsy and through every drip. He remembered all the rules and all the things I was supposed to do those first couple of days to stay comfortable and help the drugs do their job. He cooked for me, he took care of Ainsley--he made it possible for me to get better. It's not something you ever see coming in a relationship; you take those vows and say the words "in sickness and in health", but you assume that you have the better part of a lifetime to spend with someone before you have to nurse them through a life-threatening illnes. You sure don't expect to spend your thirteenth anniversary with your high-school sweetheart in a chemotherapy suite.

When I look at Jason today, it's sometimes hard to recognize the teenage boy who first got up the nerve to blurt out his feelings for me 17 years ago. And I know I have grown up, too, and am no longer that naive, skinny little thing who could barely look him in the eye and stutter back a reply. Those two kids have become thirty-somethings balancing careers, parenthood, and marriage. The feelings we had for each other back then have grown up, too. On March 19, 1990, he told me he loved me in a cold high-school bandroom. On March 19, 2003, he showed me he loved me by taking my hand and helping me through the darkest place I have ever been. And that, my friends, is true love.

Happy anniversary, Jason.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Decades

I can hardly believe this myself, y'all. I keep doing the math, thinking there's no way I got this right, but I think I got this right.

March 19, 1990 was the day Jason and I declared our love for each other in a high-school band room. March 19, 1990, will be 20 years ago tomorrow. Therefore, Jason and I have been a couple for 20 years.

Two decades. Holy crap.

Last year when I wrote about being together for 19 years, it didn't seem so momentous, even though 19 is a pretty impressive number, too. Add a 1, though, and suddenly it seems like a big deal, one we should be celebrating somehow. And perhaps we will--with ice cream cake and an evening of college basketball. Yeah, I think that fits.

I could never tell our story as well as I did the first year I had the blog when I marked our "dating anniversary" (and my chemo anniversary) by telling the tale. So tomorrow I am going to re-post the two-parter I did on that. If you've been with me since the beginning, it won't be anything new. But if you've just joining me in the last year or so, stop back on March 19 and hear how my high-school sweetheart and I hooked up. And how, on our 13th dating anniversary, he helped get me through one of the most horrifying days of my life.

In the immortal words of Taylor Swift...It's a love story, baby just say yes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

I got asked something today from a complete stranger, a question I don't get asked much when I'm right here on my home turf of northern Kentucky:

"Where are you from?"

Our school has some visitors today, educators interviewing our staff and students about how safe our school is. The interviews are taking place in the library, and I spent most of the morning directing traffic, giving directions to bathrooms, vending machines, and the next schools in the district some of these folks have to go to after they leave us. An older gentleman I had been spending some time helping looked at me and asked me where I was from.

I gave him the name of the northern Kentucky neighborhood north of my school that I called home for most of my life and still call home now (though the part of that town I live in is an annex and really more in culture and housing like the southern part of the county where I work.)

"No. I mean where you're from...originally. I travel all over the state and I can tell you have roots somewhere else."

Now, I do not hear the slightest southeastern Kentucky twang in my own voice. Compared to my mom, I talk like the damn Yankee I mostly consider myself to be. It's rare that someone calls me on something they hear in my speech patterns, something that to practiced ears gives away my Appalachian heritage.

"Originally, I'm from Knox County. But we moved up here when I was three."

"I would have guessed as much. You don't really have an accent, but you don't sound like the rest of the people I've talked to today, either."

I suppose I don't. I drop my g's at the end of -ing words (I enjoy runnin', not running, in case you were wonderin') and when I'm speaking angrily or with great enthusiasm, I do bad things to my vowels and tend to add extra syllables to curse words. ("Shee-it! Hay-ul!") And if you listen to what I say, and not just how I say it, it's a dead giveaway. It's one thing to gradually get rid of an accent; getting rid of the colloquialisms I heard during those formative years of language development is quite another and at this point will never happen. I'm more inclined to come out with, "Say what now?" if I don't understand what you said the first time than I am to bring out that baffling northern Kentucky-ism for asking someone to repeat themselves: "Please?"

That's where I draw the line at tryin' to fit in with y'all.

Is there really a more loaded question, though, than "Where are you from?" Great writers have written entire books essentially trying to answer that question.

We're all from more than a place.

Even trying to pin it down to just one place is tricky for most of us. We're pretty insular here on the outskirts of Cincinnati, a place infamous for a lack of change and movement. Most of my friends grew up here, and their parents grew up here, and their grandparents grew up here, and so on. But many in the group I hung with in college were from all over and had lived in multiple places and even have moved on to various parts far removed from where they're "originally" from.

If you want to get all technical about it, I am from:

Heidrick, in Knox County, Kentucky. Erlanger (Cincinnati, for all intents and purposes.) Danville, home of Centre College, and a town that possibly has more to do with who I became than any other. Falmouth, after the flood, and during a time both it and I were trying to adjust to a new way of life built on old foundations. Lexington, probably my favorite place place that I've lived for a variety of reasons I can't quite put my finger on but which may have something to do with the freedom and joy of unencumbered youth.

All these places left their mark on me no matter where I tell people "home" is. I feel at home in any of these places; I know their streets, their houses, and how to find a grocery store and a Dairy Queen.

Kentucky poet, children's book author, and novelist George Ella Lyon has a poem called, "Where I'm From" that I've heard her read at writing workshops numerous times. It's a beautiful ode to her childhood home, her parents, her community. After she reads it she asks participants to brainstorm words and images about where they're from and read it out loud like a poem. I'm no poet, but this is my "Where I'm From"; if only I had the guts to say all this the next time someone asks me, "Where are you from?"

I am from mountains
and from bluegrass.

I am from small rural towns
and from the suburbs of almost-major cities.

I am from the dust of coal mines
and the smog from interstate highways.

I am from rivers that run wide and quiet
and rivers that rage and flood and destroy.

I am from Pentecostals
and Catholics.

I am from soup beans and cornbread
and Skyline chili and goetta.

But no matter where I've been
I am from UK basketball fans.

How about you? Where are you from? And would the guy who talked to me today be able to tell from your accent that you're not from "around here"?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Team Haim

Tweens girls today are largely divided: Team Edward, or Team Jacob.

When I was a pre-teen girl in the mid-80s, my friends and I were divided, too. Our polarizing boy crushes? Team Haim or Team Feldman.

Ahh, the Coreys.

My two closest girl friends were firmly Team Feldman. I, on the other hand, was adamantly Team Haim. Feldman might have been more interesting as an actor and was definitely the darker, more bad-boyish of the two, but Corey Haim was just so cute and, in some roles, charmingly vulnerable. How do you not watch Lucas and fall a little in love with that kid?

Some of my favorite movie-watching moments from the 80s involve one or other or both of the Coreys. Lost Boys, The Goonies, Stand By Me, Lucas, License to Drive--they just don't make coming-of-age movies that innocent anymore. My parents "got" the Coreys, too. Mom choked up during Lucas, and License to Drive is one of the few "teenybopper" movies my dad ever stopped what he was doing to actually watch with me when it came on HBO. Corey Haim's road test cracked him up for some reason. That's also the first movie where I saw my dad actually get nervous for a character. Midway through, he got up and shook his head and stood in the kitchen doorway.

"I just can't watch that kid keep making dumb decisions to save himself and that car. He thinks he's making it better but he just keeps making it worse." He yelled at the screen: "Stop while you're ahead!"

But he couldn't stop watching it. A good train wreck is hard to ignore.

Because a good train wreck is hard to ignore, I watched a little bit of the reality show the two Coreys "starred" in a couple of years ago. It was hard, though, seeing two former teen heartthrobs, both talented enough to have made it as serious actors, struggling with addiction and burnout.

The teen stars of my generation have generally not thrived.

I was sad to see yesterday that Corey Haim has left us. I keep reading that to many who knew him well it didn't come as that much of a shock; he had put his body through a lot in his youth, and still had his demons. The picture I saw of him attached to the news article showed a Corey Haim I could barely recognize; you could tell the years had been hard on him. I can't help but see him as I best remember him, though--little brother Sam in Lost Boys, singing and goofing off with child-like innocence and joy in a bubble bath (right before Michael tries to attack him.) Who knew the troubles that were ahead for that kid?

In many ways he was a lost boy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Drink The (Vitamin) Water

In case anyone was wondering why I am a micro-manager at home, why I double- and triple-check everything and check up on everybody, here's why. It shall be made clear by the Vitamin Water incident.

Ainsley's newest taste sensation is Vitamin Water. I'm not sure how healthy it really is, but at least she's not subbing Coke for water like I was at her age.

"Okay, Jason and Ainsley," I said after my last grocery trip to replenish our stock. "I bought myself a Vitamin Water that has caffeine in it. It has a different-looking label than the regular bottles so it should be easy to tell it from Ainsley's. Since it would get her a little too wired, Ainsley shouldn't drink that one."

I showed them the bottle, they agreed, and I went on with my life.

Last night after dinner I came out of the bathroom to see Ains looking a little sheepish.

"Ainsley asked for a Vitamin Water and we got out your caffeinated bottle and she opened it and started drinking it before we realized it was yours. Sorry."

I have to tell you, this bothered me. Not because I wanted that Vitamin Water all to myself (I'm not that big a fan and just wanted to try it as an alternative to coffee) but because it just illustrates something I've suspected for a long time:

Nobody really pays attention to the mom.

I've seen Bill Cosby: Himself probably a hundred times. Before I had children, my favorite part was when Bill said that all children have "brain damage." He shows this by acting out how you have to repeat yourself over and over again like a fool just to get your kid to come to you ("Come here! Come here! Here! Comeherecomeherecomeherecomehere...Here! Here!"), and then when your kid finally comes over he looks at you like, "What? Were you calling for me or something?" According to Bill, this all goes back to brain damage.

It used to crack me up. Then I had a kid. Used to be funny because it's true, now it's just frustrating because it's true. I live it every day.

Jason doesn't get why something as petty as opening a forbidden bottle of pumped-up Vitamin Water would set my teeth on edge. I tried to explain to him how it makes me feel like my family never listens to me, or pays attention to what I say. I ended up trying to get my point across with the following tale:

Okay, so let's say I'm out one day and I buy us a little pet from a mysterious Chinese man. Let's just say for the sake of argument that it's called a Mogwai. There are three rules this thing comes with, and I carefully, pointedly explain these rules to Jason and Ainsley. Number one, no bright lights. They nod in agreement. Number two, don't get it wet. Okey dokey, they say. And the last, most important rule of all, never, ever feed it after midnight.

No problem, Mom! Gotcha!

But then I come home really late one night, and there they are, shooting pizza rolls into the thing's mouth from across the living room at one in the morning. I freak out, because I know that now the darn thing is going to mutate into a lizard-like creature with a white mohawk and trash the place.

"What?" my little family says. "What did we do?"

I explained all this to Jason.

"Don't you think that's a little...over the top?"

Yeah, that would clearly never happen. Cincinnati doesn't have a Chinatown, and we don't often have pizza rolls in the freezer.

"You have become such a micro-manager," Jason said to me just the other day. "You don't trust us to do anything without your supervision, do you?"

It's a problem, I know. I'm afraid that if I don't run the show, everything will fall apart. The gremlins will come out to play. The house will collapse around us without me to bear all the weight. That's probably unfair to Jason and to Ainsley. I need to just stand back and trust them.

But hide the caffeinated Vitamin Water. Just, you know, in case.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lemons, Ice, and Salt

As I write this, I am trying to recover from one of the worst headaches I've ever had.

I haven't had a real doozy of a migraine in over a year, and I feel like this one is making up for lost time. Even after 3 doses of Frova, which is the most one can take in a 24-hour period without flirting with death (I do so love being prescribed a medication that lists that as one of the rare side effects) the pain is still lurking around the edges. Throughout the day today at work, I've started to move from the painful part of the migraine to the resolution phase, and the fog is starting to lift. However, just like most people after a bad stomach virus, after a bad migraine my empty stomach starts to crave some really weird stuff.

And what I am thinking about today is my mom's signature drink, which has no official name that I know of and sounds like the most disgusting concoction ever but is actually quite wonderful: lemon juice squeezed over ice with a generous shake of salt.

If it doesn't give you a stroke, it'll cure what ails you. Oh come on, like none of you ever drank pickle juice straight from the jar to get your brine on.

The scariest part is that my brine-lovin' mom did not make this drink up. It used to be a drink served (off-menu, I'd imagine) at the soda fountain of one of the corner drug stores in Barbourville. In fact, I think the first time I had it was when we were still living down there. I couldn't have been older than 3. I have a strong memory of walking around Court Square shopping at my mamaw's favorite dress shop with a styrofoam cup of this strange cocktail. I was so little I couldn't see over the counter and I slurped and slurped as the ice melted and refreshed that sour, salty taste I couldn't get enough of. I threw the cup away, eventually, but only after I had sucked it dry.

All of the women in my family love this drink. When I got old enough to make it for myself, I used to put it into some fancy highball glasses we kept around the house for company and pretend I was having an alcoholic beverage just like the ladies and gents on my soap operas. But its main purpose was as a post-illness pick-me-up. After every 24-hour stomach bug and after every severe cold that left most foods and drinks tasteless, Mom went to the store to stock up on lemons and a big bag of ice.

Based on my childhood friends' reactions to this beverage (ranging from mildly disgusted to utterly horrified), I assumed the love was limited to just the females in my family. And yet when I went away to Kentucky's Governor's Scholars program, a girl from Harlan walked into my humanities class one day sipping something out of a styrofoam cup that had other people in the class amazed.

"Ask her what she's drinking," someone said.

"Okay. What are you drinking?"

"A lemon sour." Except she said it like this: "A lemon serr."

My ears perked up.

"And what exactly is that?"

"Lemon juice and salt over ice."

The reaction in the room was not unlike the "YouTube back cyst" reaction videos.

I was thrilled to see another southeastern Kentucky native drink this stuff. And it had a name! And her instroduction to the drink was the same as mine: an Appalachian small town corner drug store soda fountain. But when I search the internets for it, I can't find anything about it, or anybody else who's ever claimed to drink it.

Perhaps with good reason; my mom and sister both have high blood pressure, and I am fairly certain years of "lemon serrs" have something to do with it.

So I'm putting this out there for anyone else who may have fallen in love with these things at their small town's corner drug store and who might be scouring the series of tubes that is the internet for assurances that they're not crazy. You're not alone. It's tough to admit you like drinking brine on the rocks, but there are others of us out here.

If you happen to stumble upon this, and know of a name or origin, do share.

And for my more regular readers...What weird "local" foods and drinks do you love but that have your friends going, "Whaaaa?"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spot On

Last night after dinner, when I was getting ready to leave for the gym, Ainsley came running into the kitchen.

"Mommy, I have something for you before you go!"

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Do be-do-be-do do-do-doooo, deee, da do-do DOOOOOOOO...."

And she launched into the one thing she does that never fails to crack me up...Her flawless imitation of the Hamster Dance song.

I'm not kidding, she does it DEAD ON. You would swear we have the real thing playing somewhere when she does it. She has the cute little squeaky voice for it. It's so adorable you could just eat her up.

Being a skilled impersonator is a trait that runs in Jason's family. They all can do impressions (most of them not of famous people, but of the various colorful characters in their lives) so biting that it makes you hope no one has mastered an impression of you yet that they bring out at gatherings when you're not around.

I'm not naturally skilled at this, but I do have a theory that every person has at least one person or character who they can do a spot-on, flawless imitation of. Whether it's the Wicked Witch of the West (my sister's forte, which used to simultaneously thrill and scare the bejeezus out of me as a kid) or the Appalachian-accented star of all those state-created professional development videos we teachers had to watch at faculty meetings last year (a co-worker of mine can do a deadly imitation of this woman, to our great amusement), everybody's got somebody they can "do." If you think there is no one out there who sounds enough like you for you to imitate them, or you think you have no impersonation just haven't met your vocal doppelganger yet.

My claim to fame in 1983, when I was around Ainsley's age, was that I could channel Tangina, the little medium played by the recently gone-to-the-light Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist. I spent most of the winter of my third grade year with a chronic sinus infection that temporarily altered my voice and gave it a tinny, nasal quality that made it perfect for imitating a Munchkin-voiced spiritual advisor.

"Cross over, children! All are welcome! All are welcome! Go into the light. There is peace and the light..."

When my sister invited her friends over to the house, I was often asked to come in and do the imitation. I guess they were easily amused.

Hubby is no exception to his familial gift. My favorite impersonation of his, and the one I think he does best, is Bill Clinton. But it's not just any Bill Clinton; it's Bill Clinton singing karaoke on Tim McGraw's and Faith Hill's "It's Your Love".

As so many good imitations happen, this one was by accident. We discovered Jason's talent one night playing the American Idol karaoke game. "It's Your Love" is one of the true duets in the game, which we all love because you can harmonize. I chose this for Jason and I to sing, and in trying to imitate Tim McGraw's country twag, he somehow came out with a lecherous Arkansas rasp instead. From the first line he had us cackling.

"Dancing in the daaaaaaark..."

If only I could have mastered a Hillary voice, we could have taken our show on the road during the 2008 election season.

The sad part of all this is that sometimes these spot-on impersonations have a very short life. They often arise by accident when you're not even trying; as soon as you start trying too hard to do them, they're not as good.

I stopped being able to go a good Tangina as soon as my infection cleared up and my voice went back to normal. Jason's Bill isn't quite as raspy and lecherous as it used to be. And even last night, when Ainsley did Hamster Dance, she knew it wasn't quite there.

"Wait! I didn't do that right. Let me try again..."

So sad. I dread the day when her cute little voice changes just enough that she no longer sounds like a hamster. But it was fun while it lasted, and if she's anything like Jason's family, this is just the first of many.

Do you have anyone you can "do"?