Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mayan Apocalypse Bucket List

I really, really think we will be here on 12/21/12. I do. But I am not one to let the threat of a possible apocalypse go uncelebrated.

Maybe I just want an excuse to party like it's December 20th. Apocalypse Eve, if you will. But I've been thinking that if there is a chance those crazy Mayans were right, there are a few things I'd like to enjoy one last time. You know, just in case.

Of course, I have limited resources and energy to devote to this pre-apocalypse shindig. So think of this as a lazy, middle-class American working mom's apocalypse bucket list. Fun, but budget-minded, and using ingredients you probably already have in your pantry!

Here's my "enjoy life for one last day" plan for Apocalypse Eve:

1. Get up at 5am, go to work.*
* This is not really on any sane person's bucket list unless followed by the words, "and tell everyone to f--- off." But it's our last day before Christmas break and the only way I can skip is if the Mayans are a day off. I will say that I would actually want to see some of the people I work with one last time before we all go poof, though I'd rather spend the morning of my last day on earth with a soy hazelnut latte watching the sun rise from my front porch. And rejoice over the chipmunks tunneling under said porch, because surely if the world ends they're going with it.

2. Deny no chocolate that is offered. This is not the day to diet, people.

3. Hug my kid extra tight when she gets off the bus.

4. Work out.
(I debated over this one, and yeah, I would go for a run on my last night on earth. I kinda love exercising. I know, I can't believe it either.)

5. Have Chipotle for dinner. And what the hell--get the guac on it.

6. Have a Unibroue La Fin du Monde. Which translates to "the end of the world." Yay for ironic drink choices!

8. Listen to some of my favorite songs*.
*Including "MmmBop." Admit it, you would miss that song.

9. Go downstairs to find some of my favorite passages from some of my favorite books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Absalom, Absalom!, and Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. Give up because my home library is a mess and head back upstairs to watch "D--- in a Box" and an episode of Breaking Bad.

10. Fall asleep with the Christmas lights on--live dangerously!

Yeah, so planning for the end of the world looks an awful lot like a Friday night in my house. I am not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Either I'm already living the dream, or the dream is as dead as the ancient Mayans.

Oh, well. Pass the Munchos, open another bottle of Belgian-style ale, and party like there's no tomorrow. But rinse the bottle and put it in the recycling bin afterwards. Just in case.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sorry, guys. I got nothin'.

Sometimes life renders me speechless.

I have some thoughts in the wake of Friday's tragedy, but I've taken the temperature of the room, and this is not really the time or place to spout off on gun control, or mental health, or parenting. Others are doing this far better than I can, and you know where to go if you want to lurk on some thoughtful internet arguing followed up with some anonymous internet hatred.

My thoughts are with the families who have Christmas presents under their trees that will go unopened, stuffed animals and toys in lovingly decorated bedrooms that will never again be cuddled and played with, and framed school pictures that will never be updated. I have spent a lot of time this weekend putting myself in those parents' shoes, and experiencing so much heartache just from the thought of "what if" that I have felt actual pain in my chest. So I can't even imagine what they are going through, and have been praying to a God I don't even understand today that this never happens to us and to my beautiful and beloved child.

So I guess what I'm saying is I'm fresh out of both humor and wisdom today, and if I don't have one or the other in my soul, I just don't have anything to write about.

I will leave you with this, though.

The teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary are heroes. I am moved by the stories of how they died, or risked their own lives, to try to save the children in their classrooms. But I am not surprised.

Earlier this year, we were asked to review our school's security sweep and lock down procedures with our classes. I huddled up my small group of technology and library students each block and showed them the room I deem to be the safest in my area of the building and explained where they should hide in that room and how I would lock them in in the event someone was in the school trying to do them harm.

"You'll be in here with us, right? If this is the safest place?"

I told them I would, but not before a scenario played out in my mind of how first I would have to lock and barricade all the entrances the best I could, and block windows, and make sure I was in an area where I could get reception on my phone so I could tell authorities where my students were hidden. I realized that in my own disaster scenario, I was putting myself out in the open after securing my students to make sure I was doing everything I could to keep them safe. I was putting their safety above my own, and not even giving it a second thought until that student asked where I would be.

This does not make me a hero. It makes me your average teacher. Because any one of us would tell you the same thing--the kids come first. We care about them. We see them as ours for the time every day they're with us. And when tragedy strikes, we would die for them without thinking about it. So this week when you are understandably jumpy about putting your precious cargo on that school bus, take some comfort knowing that the person you're leaving your child with would put herself in front of the bullets to keep that kid safe.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Long December

I am not relaying the following story because I at all think I am a psychic or a mystic or have any real-life extrasensory perception that would allow me admission into Hogwarts or anything. I do intend this to teach a very important lesson, though, about holding close the ones you love.

It's no secret that I am not a big fan of Christmas. For the last several years, Christmas has become simply one long to-do list that leaves me feeling wiped out, overly commercialized, and definitively Scroogy come December 25. Christmas joy has been hard to come by.

Which makes last Christmas rather remarkable. I really enjoyed myself on Christmas morning when I had my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and mother over for our annual brunch and gift-opening. We all seemed a little more jovial than usual, and no one was quick to pack up their toys and head home in a sugar coma. My mother went completely overboard on gifts, despite a years-old agreement that we were only going to buy gifts for the two grandchildren in the family and focus instead on food and merriment for the adult children.

"Mom, you shouldn't have," I said when my generous haul had been unwrapped. "We agreed we weren't going to buy for each other anymore and just make Christmas for Kyle and Ainsley instead."

"I wanted to." She smiled and had a glass of wine.

Something made me want to keep pouring for her, even after my sister and her family left. At that time, Mom's significant other had been assigned to in-home hospice care for his cancer and I knew she was already grieving for him. I offered to have Jason drive her home if she wanted to stay past dark.

"No, I better be getting home. I don't know why, but this was more fun this year. I don't want to go, but I know I have to."

As I reluctantly watched her leave, my heart felt heavy. Jason and Ainsley retired to the basement to play with new toys, and I sprawled on the couch and watched our fire. My mood suddenly went blue, and with no one around to catch me being sappy, I cried.

Something felt...over. I had the distinct sensation that Christmas would never be like that again. It was a feeling that I would not spend another Christmas with someone who had been in that room that morning.

When Jason and Ainsley came back upstairs, I shook the feeling off. I am a pessimist with recurring mild-to-moderate depression and annual bouts of seasonal affective disorder; feelings of impending doom in December aren't terribly unusual. I wrote off the sudden sadness I felt at my mother's departure to knowing that this was her last Christmas with her gentleman friend, a man who had given her three very happy years. I took comfort that Christmas wasn't over for us; I, too, had violated the "no gifts for adults" rule and purchased a tasting at a local winery for Mom, my sister, and me so we could have a holiday-themed girls-night-out the following Friday. I would be seeing her again soon, and surely I would feel better after that.

Thank God I arranged a second Christmas celebration for us. For you know what happened next.

My mom's best friend, who tagged along with us to that after-Christmas wine tasting and dinner afterwards, called and talked to me recently about last Christmas. I told her how, the week before Christmas, I became obsessed with the idea of getting us together through the holidays. A voice in my head would not shut up about the need to, instead of buying a tangible gift for my mother, take her out and enjoy her company. And let her bring a friend. Mom's friend, too, felt sad when she had to say goodbye to my mother after our evening out and wept on her way home. She even called Mom after she arrived home to tell her again how much fun she had. We all had such a good time with Joan last December, and several of us felt something with her we hadn't before. A sense that something was changing. That Christmas 2011 was special. That she was special, and maybe not long for this world.

Even if you don't believe in such things as psychic premonition, you have to admit that human intuition is powerful, and sometimes you know deep down inside your gut when you've just seen someone for the last time.

This December has been difficult. I put up our tree and our decorations knowing Mom wouldn't be coming over to see them. I wear the gifts she bought me last year remembering the joy it gave her to surprise me with them. I prepare for a Christmas party she will not be attending. It feels empty and hollow, but I try so very hard to see the beauty.

I talked to Jason about it one night. About how even if you think you know how next year will look, and who will be in your life and who won't, you don't really know.

"Well, that's the thing, isn't it?" he said. "That's why you should enjoy every Christmas. It could be your last."

Morbid, but wise.

So, dear readers, do me a favor. Take a moment. Look around you. Appreciate the lights, the food, the smells, the sounds, as if you might not see them again. Have another glass of wine. (Unless you're driving.) And when you are with your loved ones, hold them close. Cherish them. Listen to any voice that says this might be the last time you all get together; even if that voice is wrong, the worst that will happen is that your Uncle Eddie might not annoy you as badly.

And the best that will happen is that you will have a special holiday that you can look back on when your family isn't as whole and be glad that, amidst all the hustle and bustle and stress and familial conflict, you had that one really great Christmas together.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If It's Wednesday, This Must Be The Dairy Queen

Our apartment was tiny, had brown shag carpet, and neighbors who smoked little fragrant cigarettes and partied until 4am on weeknights.

Our parents were 45 minutes away, which didn't seem a long drive until we craved our mothers' cooking or needed to do laundry for free. One close friend lived about 20 minutes away, all other friends more like an hour. Life followed a routine: teach, stay late at school planning lessons and grading papers, drive home, attempt something out of a beginner cookbook, watch The X-Files reruns, microwave a personal pan pizza because a beginner cookbook plus a beginner cook often equals failure, and then collapse into bed somehow both overwhelmed and bored.

We were lonely, we were frequently homesick, we had career dissatisfaction, we were poor. We were not yet parents but no longer kids and learning that being newly wed isn't all giggles and roses.

And yet, when Jason and I look back, we fondly remember the Falmouth year as one of the simplest and happiest times of our lives. This is in no small part because of the Dairy Queen.

When your life follows a monotonous and tiring routine, and when you live in a town with only one main intersection, you have to find something to break things up. Something to look forward to. For us, that something was a Wednesday night dining out on chicken strip baskets with Texas toast and gravy, followed by Oreo Blizzards.

Did we gain weight? Of course we did. And yet it was a date night worth every pound.

I'd long known the glories of the Falmouth Dairy Queen. Before we lived there, I knew Falmouth very well because that happened to house my father's favorite substance abuse treatment center in the tri-state area. I don't blame him for this preference; it was a quiet, sleepy little town where life moved at a slower, less-stressful pace. And on release days when my mother and I could come visit and spring him from the facility for a few hours, we could go get the best restaurant cheeseburgers any of us had ever had. I don't know what a "brazier" is, but that DQ had one, and it was magical.

When we spent our first year as marrieds in that same town, Falmouth was still recovering from a devastating flood. Few businesses had opened back up; there was a Lee's Famous Recipe chicken place inside of the (not "a", but "the") gas station, and we have a strict rule to not eat food prepared inside gas stations. There was also a McDonald's. But that was it. No pizza deliveries, no dingy Chinese restaurant with questionable meat sources, no diner, drive-in, or dive.

The Dairy Queen filled our culinary needs on those evenings we needed to escape our 4-room apartment with a kitchen so small my rear-end dislocated the table every time I opened the oven door. We started stopping by every Wednesday as a way to get over the hump and survive the rest of the week. If we made it through Wednesday, we only had to prepare our own  dinner one more night before we could hit the road to bum food from our parents or haunt the Applebee's in Lexington with our friends.

Even on Wednesday, the Dairy Queen was hopping. When you're the only game in town, you get a lot of game. We were the youngest adults in the joint, but that was fine. Our food was prepared by older ladies who had been there for decades, and our orders came out hot and greasy--the best way DQ food can possibly arrive at your table. TVs displayed the UK game, when it was on; Jeopardy when it wasn't. No one knew us, but that didn't stop the locals from being friendly and talkative just the same. It was a community that had recently been knocked on its ass, but was beginning to rebuild. They were fiercely proud of their Dairy Queen, run by the same man for many years, brought back to life quickly after the waters receded. It might technically have been a chain restaurant, but it felt like the corner drug stores and soda fountains of old--a place where the whole community could meet up, grab a treat, and talk about the weather and the grand state of UK basketball. (Did I mention this was 1998?)

Wednesday nights out died the next year when we found ourselves even poorer and relocated to Lexington where we both were taking time off teaching (for Jason, this was a permanent hiatus) to further our educations and pave new career paths. Besides, the Dairy Queen close to our apartment sucked, and proved to only be good for an occasional poorly-blended Blizzard. It's a tradition I miss to this day, when Wednesday nights have become so hectic that dinner is usually a rushed affair worked around piano lessons, homework, and errands. How nice would it be to have a weeknight family date to a place where, if everyone doesn't know your name, they at least care enough to fry your chicken fingers and fries when you order and not invest in holding trays and heat lamps?

I think I could even do without the Texas toast and gravy. Because I am much more health-conscious now. And because I would still want the Oreo Blizzard for dessert.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hey, Guess What? Everything's Fine, For Once.

My MRI results came back and, to paraphrase Tangina from Poltergeist...

This breast is clean.

Though when Tangina said, "This house is clean," she was totally wrong, and there was still that big, white skeleton-spider-ghost thing guarding the kids' bedroom door, and the pool was still technically full of bodies. So it really was not clean. That might not be the best reference. I hope her shaky criteria for "clean" never applies to any of my body parts.

So I'll start over:

No signs of cancer at this time. Whatever has been flashing since last January has stopped its light show. Nothing to see here--move along. These are not the boobs you're looking for.

Normal feels really, really great.