Valentines and Date Night (Jesus-Approved)

It is no secret that I think most holidays are contrived by the powers that be to boost the economy through the sale of needless crap that does not actually mean that a person loves you.  There is most likely a Kay Jewelers in every mall in hell.  Gifts do not equal love.

Say that in your head one more time because it is important.  Gifts do not equal love.

Loving behavior equals love.  Lots of loving behaviors.  Over time.  And rocky terrain.  And loving behaviors on sunny days and during the fun stuff and in the middle of all of the excitement too.  Lots and lots of loving behavior equals love.  Gifts do not equal love.

I will, however, make an exception to my rant to allow sarcastic valentines to squeak in.  I can definitely get on board with these.  I might even go so far as to say that these valentines would count as a little bit of love.  May I suggest a few that should be sent from my family?

From Kid E:

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 10.08.46 AMFrom Kid D:

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From Kid C:

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From Kid B:

images-3From Kid A:

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From Sheepdog:

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Now that’s what I call love, folks.  Lots and lots and lots of love.

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A few weeks back I went online and purchased tickets to a predicted train wreck of a movie for Sheepdog and I to see this Valentine’s weekend.  The very popular book series that inspired said film had proven to be a key ingredient to a very memorable vacation for us a few years back in Cabo San Lucas.  Given that we are not going on that trip to Mexico this year, and the fact that Sheepdog tethers himself to the thought of that week as if it were an actual life source, I figured I would throw him a bone(r).  Mr. Grey will see you now.

And then I thought it would be nice to invite my sisters and their husbands to the theater as well.  So I texted them about it.

50 Shades text

Between happily married, consenting adults, that is.

Wish me luck for tomorrow.  Sheepdog’s not going to need any.  He’s got 50 Shades of Lucky coming his way.

Time for a Check Up

I was at one of those trampoline jumping birthday party places with a friend recently.  While our kids played dodge ball and bounced out some extra summer energy, we had a nice talk.  She shared something with me and then added, “Oh, I hope that’s not TMI.”  I laughed and reminded her that she was talking to a giant over-sharer.  The conversation went on from there and my friend said something to me that others have also mentioned in the past, regarding the state of my marriage.

“I see you as such a strong couple, ” she said.  “You seem like very good communicators, and you make a good team.”

I thanked her, then reminded her of a very critical fact.  Yes, Sheepdog and I work very, very hard at our relationship, but it is far from perfect.  We fight, disagree, act selfishly or immaturely, and go to bed mad at one another just like everybody else.  We have different interests, hobbies, and schedules.  We have dealt with big and little struggles and we have been through counseling several times.  There was a time about nine or ten years into our marriage when we actually decided to get a divorce.  But then we let down our defenses and started enjoying each other and our family and decided that divorce was one of the dumbest ideas we had come up with in a really long time.

Even though we worked through that craziness, we occasionally get off track again we get to a point where we act more like porcupines than dolphins.

This is an excerpt from one of our recent conversations:

Sheepdog:  “What’s wrong?  Why are you so grouchy?”

Me:  “I’m due for my period on Saturday.”

Sheepdog: “You are either on your period, about to get your period, or just getting over having had your period.”

Me: (expertly executing the evil wife death stare)

Sheepdog: “What?”

Me: “I can’t hear you over the glorious sound in my head of me hitting you with a shovel.”

AmericanGothic

So close… if only it were a shovel and she got to hold it.

So, just like you would change the oil in your car every 6,000 miles, or you swap out the air filters in your HVAC system quarterly, or you check the batteries in your smoke alarms every six months, or buy new running shoes after 3 or 400 miles, Sheepdog and I felt like it was time for a marriage check up.  Yesterday we went back to counseling, and we will keep going back until we get things back on track.  And we are both very hopeful.

Today we celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary.  I say “celebrate” purposefully, even in the middle of a rough patch, because it is certainly something that we are very proud of.  It is hard to stay married to one person for a long time.  It is hard to stay friends with one person for a long time.  It takes a lot of energy.  People constantly change and evolve and life is hard and kids are demanding and work is stressful.  But Sheepdog and I are doing it, and we are committed to doing it for as long as we both shall live.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

 

All the Way Home

Last Sunday Kid B asked Sheepdog to take her to the park so she could do some goalkeeper training.  Kid C tagged along and they worked out together for a couple of hours.  There was lots of punting, drop-kicking and goal kicking.  I’m sure there were some dive drills as well.  Afterwards, Sheepdog and Kid C got back into the car.

“We are stopping at the grocery store for a few things on the way home.  You should run back from here,” Sheepdog said to Kid B.

Kid B hates running as much as I do, but she is required to do it for her overall soccer conditioning.  Sheepdog convinced her that is was only about three miles to our house, and he explained the route that cut through a safe neighborhood and kept her (mostly) off of the busy main roads.  She grumbled at him, but nevertheless she put one foot in front of the other and soon she was running.

Run, Forrest, Run.

Run, Forrest, Run.

I had taken both of the boys to the pool for a bit that morning while they were training.  But the weather had taken a turn for the worse, so we were back at the house even before Sheepdog and Kid C returned with their groceries.  I inquired about the missing Kid B.

Sheepdog explained the plan for her to run home with a very proud smile.  I knew that he had been trying to get her to do this for months now.  But I also knew that Kid B didn’t know the route very well and Sheepdog is beyond horrible at giving directions.  I was not happy.

“Did she actually want to run home, or did you force her to do it?”

“She knows it is good for her!”

“Did you show her exactly where to go?”

“No, I didn’t show her… but I told her.”

“It has been a while since you left her.  You even stopped at the store.  Shouldn’t she be home by now?  Does she at least have her phone with her in case she gets lost, or it turns out instead to be 10 miles from there to here?”

“Um… (quietly) no.  But I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Great, Dumbass.  I am going to go give Kid E a bath.  Kid B had better be back under this roof, safe and sound, by the time I am done.  Go get back in your car and drive around to find her if you have to.  Don’t you dare lose one of my babies!”

Sheepdog laughed at me, but I gave him a look so he knew I was not joshing.

A few minutes later, I heard the garage door open and his car was gone.

By the time I finished with bath duty, Kid B and Sheepdog were both standing in the kitchen.  Kid B was sweaty and tired, but she was, indeed, just fine.  I breathed a sigh of relief, and then I asked exactly what happened.  This is what they told me:

Sheepdog’s directions were wrong (well, duh).  First, she got lost in the park.  Then she got lost in the neighborhood.  Eventually, she made it out to the main road and started heading back to our house, but only after she had added a couple of extra miles to her run.  By then, Sheepdog had driven out to find her.  He had the top down on the car and he saw her running on the sidewalk and made a gesture that conveyed, “What’s up?  Where’ve you been?  What’s taking you so long?”

At first, Kid B just smiled back at him.  But then, overcome by frustration from him making her run home and getting lost in the process, on the side of a very busy road, my fourteen-year-old daughter flipped her Dad the bird, real big and dramatic-like.  And then she just kept on running… all the way home.

Coincidentally, I would have done the same, exact thing.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

The Ski Lift

When I was growing up, my best friend lived right across the street from me.  We did everything together from the time she rolled out of bed at noon until our parents made us come home at sunset.  We had a ton of freedom to do basically whatever we fancied.  We rode bikes all over town and in the woods, played Barbies on the front lawn, and basically hid from all of the other younger kids on our block.  So many of my childhood memories involve her… including the first time I went snow skiing.

Her parents owned a local ski shop and she and her younger brother began skiing when they were babies.  They went skiing all of the time.  I think the first time I went with them I was about nine years old.  I suited up and hit the slopes.  No matter that she took me to a (double?) diamond on my very first run.  Fortunately, I was a kid and made of rubber and I totally dug the speed from racing down a mountain, all tuck-and-go.  In my head-to-toe matching yellow hat, pants, bibs combo, I effortlessly earned the nickname “Runaway Banana.”

My family soon got in on the skiing vacations as well.  Actually, it seemed like our whole town did.  And we skied A LOT.  We took tons of day trips to local areas that were fun, but my favorite ski vacations were the ones where we got to ski day after day after day.  They even instituted a week off of school in February, called it “Winter Vacation” and most everybody traveled north.  We went a few times a year to Pico Mountain in Killington, Vermont, to swoosh down Charlie’s Highway, the Lower and Upper Pikes, Bushwacker, Forty-Niner, Upper and Lower Giant Killers, and even A and B slopes when they were occasionally open.

And, again, our parents gave us the freedom to ski wherever we wanted, together as kids.  But instead of meeting back home when the sun went down, we just met them at the Lodge for happy hour after the lifts closed.

Now, Pico Mountain is not a ginormous ski resort.  It was also the 1980’s and kids could still do the unaccompanied roaming thing without much worry.  It also didn’t hurt that most every person on the mountain also came from my hometown, so we all kind of knew each other up there.  Nevertheless, even when we were “on our own,” we would occasionally run into a parent here and there.

I have learned as a parent myself that there are many taboo topics that other parents don’t necessarily tell you all about, mainly because they are so horrible that you just might opt out of the whole parenthood gig if you were forewarned of their atrociousness (things like the unimaginable quantities of poop, puke, lack of sleep, all-consuming fear of total responsibility for the life of another human being… and those are just a few that jump to mind regarding babies).  But there are also upsides to parenthood that you might not necessarily consider either.  One of those is certainly the joy you can get from the embarrassment of your children in public, mostly as payback for crap they did as babies and/ or toddlers, but also for just being kids.  Looking back, my dad was totally in on that secret.

So there I was, racing down Pico Mountain, cutting tight left and right, skis all parallel like I was one of the Mahre twins (at least in my mind I was), and then I would inevitably hear him singing down from above…

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“I love my Staaaaaaaaaa-cy,
Oh, yes I doooooooooo.
When she’s not near to meeeeeeeeee,
I’m sad and bluuuuuuuuuue.
I love her truuuuuuuuuu-ly,
I doooooooooo!
Oh, Staaaaaaaaaa-cy,
I LOVE YOU!”

Yes, I cringed.  Yes, I pretended I didn’t know him.  Yes, I skied away as fast as I could.  But it secretly made me so happy that my dad would put himself out there (he is a horrible, and LOUD singer) to express his love-slash-retribution like that.  To this day, I smile with such joy every time I see a chairlift.

On this Father’s Day, I want to tell my dad just how much I love him right back…

I love you truly,
I do!
Oh, Daddy,
I LOVE YOU!

Happy Father’s Day to all of the embarrassing dads out there.  xo

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Over the (Hawk) Hill

Last Thursday I had some kind of unholy, unprecedented strain of PMS.  All five of the kids were ganging up on me by playing a rousing game of Who Can Get On Mommy’s Very Last Nerve?  So when Sheepdog came home from work and (uncharacteristically) asked, “What’s for dinner and when’ll it be ready?” before even saying hello, I felt totally justified in telling him that I wanted “to hit (him) very hard in the face with a(n effing) shovel.”  Obviously, I needed a break.  The very next morning I hopped on a plane to Philadelphia.  We were all very pleased that I got away for a bit.
 

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When I was a senior in high school I did what almost everyone else was doing and I applied to get into college.  Three colleges, to be exact.  I was smart, involved and had yet to experience any hard slaps-in-the-face from life.  I was Miss Absecon 1987 and Holy Spirit’s homecoming queen, for goodness’ sake.  So I was in utter disbelief and completely devastated when I received thin envelopes from all three schools telling me no, no and wait.  It was April of my senior year and all I could say when asked where I was going in the fall was, “I honestly don’t know.”

I remember going in to see my school guidance counselor in a daze and asking what I was supposed to do at that point.  He mentioned a small school on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia called St. Joseph’s University.  I had not heard of it before, but my grades and SAT scores were on track to allow me admittance there.  I do not recall the administrative details that followed, but I do know that my parents moved me into a college dorm up on Hawk Hill as that summer drew to an end.

But even with my very own spot in the SJU Class of 1992, it turns out that I still was not sure of where I was going.  I spent the next two years floundering.  I went to parties and bars, but not many classes.  I changed my major and therefore my schedule countless times.  I made stupid and sometimes dangerous choices.  I got my heart broken more than once.  Looking back on my freshman and sophomore years at St. Joe’s, I recall a general sense of sadness and isolation, which was made even worse by my belief that I was surrounded by so many people who all seemed to be having the time of their lives.

My parents saw that I was not happy and they finally convinced me to come back home (a fate worse than death at the time!).  I would work and take classes at a local college in order to bring up my GPA.  Then I could reapply to another school or schools, and eventually earn a degree.  That is how I ended up at West Virginia University as a transfer student in the Fall of 1990.  I met Sheepdog there after just a few weeks.

Short Aside… Yes, WVU was a giant party school back then (and still officially is, according to Princeton Review), but I had thankfully gotten most of it out of my system by the time I moved to Morgantown.  Note that I said most, not all.  Now that’s a true story.

After years of ruminating (and some good, old-fashioned therapy), I look back on my first years of higher education with a smile.  It was the time when I walked on to the varsity cheerleading squad for the basketball team and I got to cheer on national television and travel all over the East Coast to other schools in the Atlantic 10.  It was when I learned that accounting was definitely not my thing, but english and eventually journalism were.  It was when I learned how I didn’t want to be treated by boys, and therefore what I did eventually want from a partner in life.  Most importantly, it was the time when I learned what I did and did not like about myself.  It was where I learned that having a rhinestone crown placed on your head doesn’t mean jack, so I needed to buckle down and start working for what I wanted.  It was where I made friends for life, because college years can be so intense that bonds are forged deeper and stronger than during any other experience.

This past weekend I traveled back to City Line Avenue for Hawktoberfest 2012 and to celebrate the passage of 20 years since the Class of 1992 had been handed their sheepskins.  Originally I booked my plane ticket and hotel room because it was an excuse to spend time with friends who now live scattered all over and I rarely get to see (save for the occasional wedding or funeral or milestone birthday celebration in the Dominican Republic), but it turned out to be so much more than that for me.

I saw people who I hadn’t seen in decades.  I listened to the stories of how their lives had played out, as well as their plans for the future.  I heard the classic tales again, but I also listened to new ones that I never knew about.  One girlfriend teased, saying that I was quite the social butterfly… talking to absolutely everyone, but that was the best part of the experience for me.  We went out to dinner and shared so many memories and bottles of wine.  We played softball on the incredible new field.  We posed for pictures in front of our old dorms.  We tailgated (I know, I know… how do you tailgate without a football team?) and gossiped and laughed.  I laughed until I was hoarse.  It was very, very good.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This was taken just before 2AM on 54th Street.

On Sunday, we roused our sad, over the hill selves out of bed with lots and lots of coffee.  After we checked out of the hotel, a few of us who had later flights walked around the campus.  It is so much bigger now, with all of the new buildings and dorms and fields, but it is still the same in so many ways.  It was awkward but comfortable at the same time.  I had to catch my breath several times as I walked through the old Fieldhouse (now Hagan Arena) and down past Finnesy Field.  I actually had tears in my eyes as I went from Lafarge to the Chapel and the old Newmann Hall and then crossed the foot bridge to McShane.  They fell silently down my cheeks as I walked down the tree-lined Lapsley Lane to the most magnificent view of Barbelin Tower.

What’s magis? It’s a Jesuit principle that underlies everything we do at Saint Joseph’s University. It inspires us to think a little broader, dig a little deeper, and work a little harder. More simply put, magis calls us to live greater.

The tears were few but they were powerful and cathartic.  I felt such peace and comfort in knowing that St. Joe’s was the first of many steps in bringing me to where I am in my life today.  It defined me, both good and bad.  And it feels so awesome to own that.

I left Hawk Hill feeling light and happy, albeit a little old.  I left with renewed friendships and some new Facebook friends.  I left with a memory card full of photographs.  But mostly I left with a palpable gratitude for the life I have now and the people who are in it.  It never ceases to amaze me how life twists and turns, takes us up and down the hills and sometimes even mountains, and lands us where we are right at this moment.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

This… Is… Walgreens

You know how especially this time of year everybody has to have something weird and specific for school or sports or work or a hobby or whatever and they need it right now?  Just within the past week or two I have had to provide six individual flowers, a funny hat, Swedish fish, a baby picture, a bag of pretzels, a foam roller, a metal dog bowl, a plain white t-shirt, a South African recipe, a bag of Pepperidge Farm Milano Double Fudge cookies, a food that starts with the letter “U,” an unopened sleeve of plastic cups, 2 inflatable pool swim rings, seven metal stakes, and a cut-up lemon.  And there’s never much notice because everybody is trying to cram everything into the last few weeks before school lets out and summer begins.

Plus, we are still attending all of the regular season practices and classes and now their accompanying End of the Year/ Season parties and celebrations as well.  So our family calendar and all of the driving and carpooling and shuttling has been kicked up a notch.  And not even my regular stockpile of supplies can be counted upon for all of these strange and urgent requests.  (My father-in-law thinks that between my garage, basement and pantry I have my own Kroger going on and he’s not too far off the mark).  Still, I find myself running to the store almost every afternoon lately to fill the demands that I do not have already on hand, and that means “running in” with some, if not all, of my kids.  Ugh, the herding turtles suckfest.  My patience is at an all-time low.

I have tried bargaining with what I have available, but my kids never agree to bring in freezer-burned edamame when they are supposed to be showing up with Sour Patch Kids.  Picky, picky, picky.

Since I am rarely up for carting these kids around with me to the stores last minute, I like to ask Sheepdog to stop instead.  I can justify this pass off of parental responsibility because (a) he is either alone or only has the older kids with him and they can get in and out of the car by themselves and they can usually be trusted in a parking lot, (b) it is way past dinnertime and when he goes out and the odds are reduced that he’ll get caught in the middle of a bitch-slap fight for the last rotisserie chicken from the heated display, and (c) he will use any excuse to go out and pick up a few extra Hershey bars or sleeves of Smarties for his late night snack… “they just fell into the cart!”

Sheepdog is a great team player and he always goes without complaint.  But even patient Sheepdog gets frustrated with the traffic and the scavenger hunt and by the time he has gone to a second or even third store to get some rare item, he has little or no patience left with the people at the register.  This is how it went when he was once checking out with a disposable camera, a very specific (and not easy to locate) type of long-hair conditioner, and some candy.  He was already tired and overworked and ready to be home eating his treats.  Calgon, take me away.

“Will that be all, sir?” asked the clerk.

“Yes.  Oh, and I have a CVS card,” replied Sheepdog.

“What?”

“I have a CVS card,” he said again with his irritation showing itself in tone and volume.

“Huh?”

“I… Have… A… CVS… Card.”  I believe his patience evaporated completely with the last syllable.

“Sir, this… is… Walgreens.”

Oops.

Wish Sheepdog some more patience for tomorrow…

What Did One Math Book Say To The Other Math Book?

“Dude, I’ve got a lot of problems.”

I love that joke.  Probably because I am a math book.  And one of my biggest problems keeps popping up lately… I am very ornery and I tend to bring out the ornery in those around me.  And that can get us into some hot water at times.

For example, I see Kid C and D’s elementary school bus driver every weekday morning.  He is a really nice, reliable man in his late forties or early fifties.   He drives safely and he keeps the kids in line and they all say he is a great bus driver.  Everybody likes him.  I even know his wife (she was the previous elementary school bus driver for Kids A and B when we first moved here).  We always exchange pleasantries and what’s-going-on’s, but we are usually limited to yelling just a few words back and forth to each other over the very loud diesel engine.

Prior to Spring Break he told me that he was going to Las Vegas for vacation.  For the last few days before school was out I would yell, “Vegas, Baby!” while raising my arms and laughing uncontrollably whenever he opened the bus doors.  The other kids on the bus looked at my kids and were like, “Is your mom drunk again?”  Whatever.  It made me giggle.  And, no, there is nothing else in my coffee.

So when we returned from Spring Break and all of the groggy kids were climbing onto the school bus on Monday morning I asked the bus driver how his trip went.  He smiled a wistful smile and said it was really fun, as if he had either lost a lot of money at the craps tables or he really wished he was still on vacation.  Or both.  I didn’t want him to be sad, so my ornery busted out with some bright-side support and I yelled, “At least you still have your pants on!”

He laughed out loud and then succumbed to my bad influence.  The engine was very loud but I think I heard him yell back, “Yeah, but I’m not wearing any underpants!”  …in front of a school bus full of little kids.  The poor man realized what he said as soon as it came out of his mouth and was mortified.  Imagine the face that a minister would make if he dropped the F-bomb in the middle of a church picnic.  The bus driver made that exact face.  Thank goodness all of the kids already think I am crazy and don’t pay attention to anything I say, so nobody was really listening to us anyway.  I don’t want anybody getting in trouble, so I will say again that the engine was really loud and I probably did not hear him correctly.  But if he did say it, then chalk up one more for my very bad influence.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Thank goodness.

Speaking of Vegas, Sheepdog gave a speech on food traceability and its impact on recalls in litigation at a food-borne illness conference in Las Vegas last week (I know, I know… how sexy is that?).  Now, I have shared a lot about Sheepdog over the past year, so I feel like you all should know him pretty well.  Even so, I can not stress enough how much of a square peg Sheepdog is in the holes of Sin City.  He does not drink, he is the married father of five children, and if he is not working like a madman to pay for all of those children to be housed, clothed, fed and educated, he is either running or riding his bicycle somewhere.  Not exactly the things that come to mind when you think of Vegas, right?

Sheepdog is more than a fish out of water on the Vegas Strip.  The place genuinely scares the crap out of him.  He went there only one time years ago for our brother-in-law’s bachelor party weekend.  He went out there with something like $200 “fun money” in his pocket (the most money he ever had in his possession at one time up until that point, and it was a big deal financially for us to send him there with that much) and then called me from a strip club or somewhere because he had already used up all of the money.  After only being there for an hour.  I won’t even say how much cash he ended up dropping that weekend, but it was not an itty-bitty number.  Apparently there was just so much of everything available twenty-four hours a day.  And apparently Sheepdog’s intensity does not translate into anything good in a place like that.

So Sheepdog and I were both joking how ever since that trip Vegas scares the bejesus out of him.  And it turns out that at least somebody was paying attention when we were talking.

On the drive home from preschool on Wednesday, we were talking about Sheepdog and I reminded Kid E that his Daddy was in Las Vegas.  From the backseat I hear him say to nobody in particular, “Daddy is a-scared of Vegas.”  For whatever reason, I found this to be particularly funny.  And I found it to be even more hysterical when Kid E asked what, specifically, it was that Sheepdog was a-scared of.  Cue the ornery me.

Now, I’m not proud of this (although I do keep laughing about it), but I told Kid E that Daddy was scared of “too much boobies and drinking and spending money.”  And being a four-year-old boy, he thought that me saying those things was absolutely fantastic, and he proceeded to repeat them over and over and over again.  And I, of course, kept encouraging him because he follows up saying “boobies” with that priceless little kid giggle that just melts my heart.  At least I did remind him that he wasn’t allowed to mention any of this when he was at his Lutheran Church-based preschool.  Fingers crossed that I don’t get a note from his teacher anytime soon.

“Dude, I’ve got a lot of problems.”  Trust me, I know.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…