Relishing the Boring Stuff – What the Hell?

My addiction to Disney movies is not something I’ve ever tried to hide on this blog. So, it should come as no surprise that this blog post is inspired by one of my all-time favorites: Up. The beginning love story sequence makes me cry. Hard. Ugly, shoulder-shaking, snot-sucking crying. It’s bad. I don’t even have to be looking at the screen. As soon as I hear the music, I know what’s happening, and I start to cry right around the time that they are in the doctor’s office. Again, regular readers will know why. There is just something about the whole movie that gets me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had students like Russell, or if it’s because the love between Ellie and Carl is timeless, or if it’s because I’m just a sucker for Disney movies.

Anyway, there is one line in the movie that hits home with me every time. Russell is talking to Mr. Fredricksen about being a kid and says, That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” (Don’t send me a nasty email if I misquoted that a bit. I’m not so good at quoting movies; that’s my husband’s claim to fame.) As a mom, I try, at the very least, to make each day fun. They’re not all smash hits, but if we laugh and smile and spend time together, then I’m happy. The rest of the tribe seems to be, too.

I see all of these moms on Pinterest and Facebook planning these elaborate day trips and play dates, and to be honest, there are times when I wish I had the creativity and the patience and the time to do half of those things. I envy their energy and their enthusiasm and their eagerness to be perfect moms. But, then I stop and wonder if that just makes their kids expect every day to be a grand gesture. Would they even appreciate the “boring” things that our family does? That’s when I realize I’m glad that we have that boring stuff. That’s the stuff of real life, and that’s what makes our family… well, us.

I like our nightly pillow fights and tumbling shows. I was thrilled when the big kid asked to help me make a chocolate chip banana bread yesterday, but “this time without the volcano.” I love knowing that I’m going to get the little guy out of his crib each day after his nap and see his smile and answer that daily question, “Daddy home?” And the next daily question, “Brother home?” And the one after that, “Turtle game?” We may have our boring routine, but there is comfort in that schedule. We know we will be together and play each late afternoon and evening. We know the Phillies game most likely will be on after bath time. We know we will make our wishes and read our books and talk about our days, head-to-head on the pillow. I even love knowing that we go to our favorite family dinner spot so often that they know what to bring us to drink and that we don’t need menus; knowing that we can leave with a screaming little guy without insulting anyone is kind of awesome, too.

So, yes, the boring stuff is the stuff I will remember the most. And, I hope it’s the stuff our boys will look back on and remember with fondness. We may not have done something awesome every day, but we did spend time together, as a family. When I figure out how to pin that and update that, I will. In the meantime, I’ll check out what those other moms are doing, and for once, I’ll be able to think I may just be doing something right. What the Hell?

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Daddy’s Girl – What the Hell?

I was a Daddy’s Girl when I was little. Okay, I was a Daddy’s Girl until our first child was born. He took my place as the apple of my dad’s eye. And then that place grew with the additions of our second son and my niece. And, I’m okay with that. But, as a Daddy’s Girl, I have some very fond memories of a childhood with my dad.

Fishing

There was a pond that was our spot. I don’t remember there ever being anyone else there, other than the huge bullfrogs that scared me every time they jumped into the water. Their throaty sounds gave me goose bumps because I knew they were near me, but I did not want to see them. God forbid, one would have touched me. But, I managed to overcome my fear of all of those frogs and just enjoy fishing with my dad. I didn’t touch the worms, either, which was probably hell on Dad because he’d have to bait my hook and make sure I wasn’t about to hook him when I cast in my line. Oh, and I didn’t touch the fish that I caught, either; so, Dad probably spent 90% of his time dealing with me and 10% of his time fishing himself. I remember catching largemouth bass and pumpkinseeds and bluegills.   I remember putting the “punkies” in the ground and lighting them to keep the bugs away. I remember my dad having a lit cigar to keep the bugs away, but he never really seemed to smoke it; he just let it smolder. I don’t remember what we talked about. I just remember being with him and loving every second… well, except for the frogs.

The Mill

My dad owned and operated a feed mill less than two minutes from my childhood home for years. He grew up working there, while attending school and then college, and he bought it after earning a teaching degree that he never put to use in the classroom but that helped him to be a more knowledgeable and informed school board member. I grew up at that mill, too, but in a different way. I swept the dust-covered floors and arranged dog biscuits and watched the grain go up the elevators and then down the chutes into the huge bags. I stopped in front of his custom horse sweet feed and breathed in the smells of molasses and oats deeply every time I walked past. I climbed to the top of the stacks of bags and pretended I ruled the world. My favorite place to be, though, was behind the counter in the office. He had a horribly uncomfortable stool, but I thought its seat resembled a saddle, and I loved to sit on it and watch him work. As I got older, I was allowed to work the cash register, with his guidance. It’s funny that I don’t remember being afraid of the mice that I knew were there but never really saw, especially considering my frog phobia. It was my dad’s place, so I wanted to be there with him. I learned a lot about the value of your word and hard work and a work ethic in that dusty old place. And now, my boys are making a lot of the same memories with their dad, since we purchased the mill and my husband became the sole owner-operator three years ago. It still catches me off guard to see my husband behind the counter and not my dad when I walk in the office.

Backyard Sports

I have such fond memories of playing badminton and softball in our backyard. It seems like all of those memories involve my mom standing at the kitchen window getting supper dishes cleaned up, too. She never really got into those outdoor athletic moments with us. Dad and I could occupy ourselves with an especially intense badminton match for hours. I would be barefoot, and he would sometimes still be in his work boots if we were having a late supper, and we’d start playing. The trash talk was epic: he usually focused on how bad my serves were and how green my feet were, and I usually focused on how slow he was and how I had to give him a handicap for being left handed. On nights when we chose softball instead of badminton, he would challenge my arm and my catching ability to the nth degree, and I can still picture the look of amazement he would get when I caught a ball he never thought I’d be able to grab. I can remember knocking a few balls into the neighbors’ yards that sparked that same look, too. (Don’t start getting all excited about what an athletic wonder I am. I think these memories are mostly from ages 6-10.)

High School Football Games

My all-time favorite childhood memories of being with my dad happened under the Friday night lights. I remember getting a new purple-and-white sweatshirt and the latest purple wooly blankets and new bleacher cushions that actually had some cushion in them and new purple-and-white hair ribbons at the beginning of each season. We parked his truck in a prime parking spot near the field but in a place suited for a quick exit after the final buzzer, went for Friday dinner at our favorite local family restaurant with my Mom and brother, and then they dropped us off at the field for “our game.” We had season tickets to the high school games because my dad was a school board member (that was the one and only perk of losing him to so many meetings each month). We sat with my grandparents and the coaches’ wives and former coaches and teaching legends, and I cheered with the best of them. I still remember that adrenaline rush from the marching band songs (to this day, that is why “Louie, Louie” is my favorite song) and how loudly one of my grandmother’s best friends was able to boo. He and I would dance and sing along with the band and complain about poor officiating and cheap shots by the opponents. The players were mostly older boys from our neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods, and I suppose I should have viewed them as local celebrities for as much as I supported them every Friday night, but I looked up to my dad more than I did any of them. There were some exciting play-off seasons during my younger years, and all I would have to do was look at my dad after the latest win to know that we would be buying pep bus tickets and traveling far and wide to follow “our team.” Everyone else in town, it seemed, did too. Trips to the Pittsburgh and Erie areas to sit in freezing cold weather and cheer even more loudly than normal to warm ourselves were a given in our eyes; I think my mom sometimes wished we would just stay home, but as far as I know, she never tried to thwart our football plans. I was so fortunate to give a speech on that football field when I graduated from high school, and I started by pointing to “our seats” and talking about our purple-and-white-filled autumn nights in that stadium. The school and team colors and field may be gone now, but I never will forget the time we spent together, being goofy in all of our fandom.

So, I was hoping after seeing that I gravitated toward my dad, and my brother gravitated toward my mom, that I would have a Mama’s Boy. The odds seemed pretty good when we were blessed with two boys; surely, the numbers were in my favor. No such luck. The five year old always wants my mom, and the two year old always wants my husband or my dad. I’m left out in the cold. So, now I don’t feel so bad about not having a daughter and my husband missing out on having his own Daddy’s Girl. He’s got two boys who want to work at his feed mill and who worship his tools and his tractor nearly as much as they worship him. Oh well, I’ll get my dad back from these little munchkins some day. They can’t ALWAYS be cuter than I am. What the Hell?

After reading this, I realize that it’s no wonder I’ve never been into princesses and dance class and pink.  Dad and I didn’t have time for that stuff.

Dilapidated Memories – What the Hell?

Yesterday, I had a chance to take our five year old on a tour of my old stomping grounds. I felt like it was a great time to really show him around, since he’s old enough to remember where we go and what he sees; we’re still struggling with having him remember what we say, but that’s a topic for another blog post. When you live in a small town, build a home only 17 minutes away from the house you grew up in, and buy your father’s small business, you tend to get tangled in those roots that you’ve been putting down since you were born.

The problem with yesterday’s tour, though, was that memory lane is a lot more overgrown and decrepit than it used to be. I was downright depressed when we were done, but I didn’t want him to know that I was on the verge of tears, so I sounded like one of those overzealous Washington, DC, tour guides that you can’t wait to ditch at the next monument.

First up was the house my dad was raised in, along with his six siblings. My grandparents haven’t lived there for decades, and the house isn’t exactly on a route I travel often.  It doesn’t look like the version I’ve romanticized in my head.  The front porch is different, and of course my grandfather’s truck isn’t parked beside the barn.  The trees are older and more tired looking.  I guess I had expected it to look exactly as it did when I visited my grandparents and hunted for Easter eggs and played with all of the cousins outside. I vividly remember petting the cows and calves in that barn, picking apples along the winding dirt road, and riding all over the fields on the three-wheeler with my aunt. And there it was: just an older farmhouse. I told our son all of the memories I could in the three minutes it took to drive past, trying to make my memory come alive for him.

Then, I drove past the famous sled-riding hill. All of the kids from my neighborhood and the two adjoining ones slid down that hill, and we thought it was the best way to spend those freezing snow days. The trip up took the breath right out of us, as did the trip back down on our inflatable tubes. The hill, thankfully, looks the same. I guess a weed-covered hill doesn’t change all that much in 25 years. It was nice to hear his breathy, “Wow!” when he saw just how big it really is.

Feeling a little rejuvenated by the sameness of the hill, I drove past the old corner store. We used to buy ice cream there, on the way to the community center for bowling after a hard day in elementary school. I also remember going in with a fistful of cash and purchasing milk for my mom, from one of my classmates’ moms. She was always so nice and smiled when she asked how I was. Now, there is a display in the front window for clothing. The display was very nice. But, it’s just not the same.

The real shock came when we drove past the store to my old elementary school. Again, not exactly on my daily travels, the school is a place I haven’t seen for years. Half of it is gone. My third grade and second grade and sixth grade and fourth grade classrooms were torn down years ago. The tennis court that hosted daily kickball games and was the site of my very first homerun (second girl in my class to achieve that feat) have been removed and there are weeds growing in its place. The playground equipment that served as home to secrets and dares also has been removed. The remaining portion of the school is a personal care facility. So, I was pointing and describing things to my son, hoping that he could picture the images of my childhood as vividly as I could: “Over there is where I won the three-legged race with my friend. Right here is where we used to line up to go in after recess. That’s where we used to play hopscotch. I lost a tooth right here.” He nodded and looked where I was pointing, but the magic that I felt was making no impression on him. Through his eyes, it must look like an overgrown field and a boring brick building.

One more turn, and we were at the site of the old community swimming pool. The place where I received most of my childhood torture and harassment – it was not easy being a chubby girl trying to swim with all of the older boys from the surrounding neighborhoods – is now another overgrown empty lot. After financial and management and a host of other issues, it, too, has gone by the wayside. I admit, I glossed over that part of the childhood memories and told him that I used to swim with friends there.

Another turn, and we were at the community park and ball fields. He already has been at the park several times, but this time I made sure he knew that the park is where I had school picnics and attended friends’ birthday parties and walked with friends during summers off from school and had some of the best fun of my young life. I showed him the softball and baseball fields and proudly told him that I was a member of the first softball team in our little village. That first year, we practiced and actually had matching team shirts and a couple of scrimmages by the end of the season. By the next year, my dad sponsored one team and another local dad who owned a business sponsored the other team, and we had real uniforms and helmets and coaches and rivalries. More fields were built, more games were scheduled, and more girls joined. I was feeling pretty special when the voice from the backseat asked if we had Sour Patch Kids at the concession stands. Way to bring your mother back to present reality, kiddo. I am happy to report that we did. And, it made me feel great to see kids on the new, shiny, colorful park equipment and cars parked at all of the ball fields. Some things about childhood should improve with age, and I’m so glad it’s the park and ball field; it seems to be those places of play that can hold a community together the longest.

Finally, we headed toward my parents’ house, down the long tree-lined street that housed of so many of my classmates, teammates, teachers, and friends. I told him that my friends and I spent hours walking along those streets, talking, and heading to the ball games of their older brothers and sometimes to see the boys on whom we had crushes play baseball. “What’s a crush, Mommy?”  “When you really like somebody and think you might want to swing beside them.” Dear God, please keep him this young and innocent forever. Again, the houses are looking older, the trees are growing taller, and the community members are walking more slowly. I showed him the houses of good friends as well as those that handed out the best candy for trick-or-treaters. By that time, he was giving me polite nods.

A lot of my childhood places are gone or heading in that direction. To make matters worse, when we go on the tour of my junior and senior high school years, I’m not going to have much to show him because my senior high school has been torn down, the football field has been torn down, and the Dunkin’ Donuts has been torn down and rebuilt facing a different direction. (Yes, DD had that much of an impact on my teen years.) I suppose that things had to change after all of that time passed, and it’s good that my small town is trying to rebuild and thrive as much as possible.

It’s just hard to see those physical places that meant so much exist now in such a completely different state. I guess it’s just one of those things about getting older: not much stays the same. What the Hell?

Washing Machine – An Early Childhood “What the Hell?” Moment

An early “What the Hell?” moment comes from the development in which I grew up and for which I still have many fond memories.  Unfortunately, I have more “What the Hell?” memories than fond memories of growing up, but that’s to be expected when you’re the only girl living in the bottom portion of a development and all of the girls living in the top part of the development go to dance class and cheerleading camp and do all of that way-too-girly-stuff for you to want to walk the whole way to the top of the hill to play with them, anyway.

On this particular “What the Hell?” day, I was playing with four of the boys who lived closest to me.  Two of them were dangerously older than I, and that should have been my first clue to go home and stay put.  I’ve never been one to correctly judge the intentions of older boys who I thought were so cool because they could hit the ball farther and kick the ball higher than anyone else I knew, so I was doomed from the start.  One of the four boys decided that playing hide-and-seek would be a dandy way to spend the day, and, seeing as how I was the only girl, I was nominated to be the first seeker.  Before I even knew what was happening, the eldest hooligan of the group scooped me up and put me up on top of the washing machine in his garage.  He told me to stay there and count to 100 before I could get down and start seeking.  I had been counting to 100 forever, so I didn’t think this command was too far-fetched or demanding.

What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that nobody would be around to get me back down from the top of the washing machine.  At this point in my life, I was already destined to be the short, round girl, and getting down from a washing machine was a tall order.  As the numbers swelled closer and closer to 100, I started to panic.  I didn’t know how to get down, and I knew none of the boys would lose his chance at being the winner of hide-and-seek just to come and get me down.  I also didn’t want to be the girl who needed help getting down, so I never once thought about calling for an adult to help me.  My five-year-old mind wasn’t yet adept at using foul language, so I know the thought wasn’t formulated as a “What the Hell?”  But, that’s exactly what I was thinking in whatever language my inner voice was capable of producing.

So, I sat there.  He had told me to sit there, and I did.  I slowed down the counting, and I whispered the final few numbers so that anyone who had chosen to hide near me would not know that I was getting close to the final number.  I always was an obedient girl, and it was more important to me that I follow the instructions of the “big boy” than to get myself out of an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation.

The fact that I still to this day cannot remember how I was saved proves that “What the Hell?” moments are less about the outcome and more about the feeling in the moment.  How stupid could I have been to be put into that situation?  What kind of a moron lets all of the kids run away and leave her stranded on top of an old appliance in a dirty, smelly garage?  More importantly, what kind of a girl does exactly what a boy tells her to do, even when it doesn’t feel quite right?

Reflecting on the events leading up to and the circumstances that put you into the “What the Hell?” moments are where the truths of life and ourselves lie.  And having some sort of foresight is the key to not having too many of those moments.

I still bump into those boys every once in a while.  Now that we’re all grown up and some of us are married with our own children, I can’t help but wonder if they remember putting me into peril at such a tender age.  But I do know this: I will teach my boys how to get down from a washing machine so they don’t have to face the humiliation of appliance-stranding like their mother.  I might just teach them not to put a girl on a pedestal if they don’t think she belongs there, too.

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