Wednesday, 12 July 2017

How My Mother Ruined My Life (Part 4 Of 7,000,000,000)

Do you remember the family room?

Not the living room, the fun room where Christmas happened, and where the sleeping bags went when you had sleepovers, but the family room.

Neighborhood get-togethers happened there, with the adults all drinking whatever weird drink was in at the time (vodka gimlet, anyone?), and dipping chunks of bread into beer-laced melted cheese. The record player was in there, too, and your parents' vast collection of Air Supply and REO Speedwagon 45's reverberated perfectly, thanks to the acoustic magic of that mildly creepy, spiderey textured ceiling.

The wallpaper was that thick, strange heavy stuff (usually with a hint of gold in it) that you helped your dad hang for your mom's birthday one year. It was the one she'd been eyeballing in those massive sample books during innumerable 'just to compare' outings at the Paint & Paper store. They had saved for ages, as it cost slightly more than a billion dollars a square inch. I had flashbacks well into adulthood about trying to get the stripes to line up evenly- there's a reason 70's kids don't have wallpaper as adults.

Your family birthday parties happened in there- grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles gathered there to stare into your soul as you tried to graciously accept that one weird gift. You didn't get to eat your cake in there- the adults did, though, and not once did I ever hear my mom warn THEM not to drop their black forest cake on the carpet. You ate yours in the kitchen, with the rest of the cousins, and it didn't matter if whipped cream got on the walls.

It was the room where the good stuff lived. The grandfather clock stood in the corner, bonging away incessantly till your brain learned to tune it out. The coffee table actually matched the end tables, and was pristine, with not a scratch on it. In a million years, it would never have occurred to you to put a glass down without a coaster (we weren't allowed to bring drinks in there, so I guess it's kind of a moot point), but that didn't stop your mom from dancing on it to the Beatles one night in elementary school. What was WITH the double standard, anyway???

And the furniture. Mom had painstakingly picked hers, agonizing over what shades of rust and ecru matched the eggshell walls best (replaced by a debate over which tones of pink best matched the brass when she redid the room in the 90's), and what fabrics held up better over time.

That was back in the day where stuff was made to last, and was priced accordingly. The family room was 12x18 feet of your parents' vision of the grown ups they wanted to become. It wasn't the motley collection of mismatched family hand me downs, wood paneling and Ikea Boxing Day deals you saw in the basement- it was the room they worked hard to make beautiful, and where some of their most treasured memories took place. It was the first room you saw on entering the house, and it was the face they presented to the world. (I was an idiot back then- I just thought it was a room).

Which leads me to how my mom made me the nut job I am today.

She bought a new loveseat when I was in junior high school. It was gorgeous- solid, overstuffed,  covered in embroidered flowers of varying shades of blue, with dusty rose accents. It was parked in front of the bay window. When the blinds were open, the back of the loveseat was covered in a bath towel to prevent the sun fading the fabric. Not a plastic slipcover (that would have been tacky), but one of the good brown bath towels. It was whisked away when the room was used, but the instant the guests left, the towel was returned to active duty, tirelessly guarding against destructive UV rays.

At that point in our lives, my sister and I were starting to be allowed unsupervised into the family room. We still couldn't take food, drinks, or frivolity in there, but mom had begun to trust us not to explode with sudden insanity, taking an axe to the coffee table, plastering the walls with gore and brain matter, and smashing David Winter Lilliput Lane Cottage sculptures with abandon.

That loveseat.

She allowed us to sit on it, but did so grudgingly. She knew NOT allowing us to sit on the thing was unreasonable, and she adored us, but you could see her visibly tense up if you sat sideways on it, imagining what your awkward posture was doing to the structure. She REALLY didn't want your friends sitting on it, because they didn't know the rules- best if you just didn't entertain in there at all. But my sister and I were so thrilled by the prospect of actually being allowed to use the furniture that we refused to see the inherent parlour-ness of the room, and insisted on trying to enjoy it.

And every time we sat down on that gorgeous loveseat, within 30 seconds of landing, you felt your head being gently lifted off the high backrest, and before it was returned to its former position, a tea towel was lovingly laid behind your neck, lest your scalp oils eat away at the 11,000,000 thread count fabric.

TO THIS DAY, I don't rest my head on furniture (unless I'm napping on the couch). The instant it touches the fabric, my head reflexively bounces back into a 90 degree sitting position. It even happens in the van- it stresses me out to take advantage of the head rest- it feels weird, and I cringe forward a bit so I won't make contact. One day, I will develop a hump.

I'm naming it 'Mom'.


The loveseat, which grandkids are now allowed to sully with shoes.

This picture is intended for wallpaper-viewing purposes only.
Any other things you see going on, just ignore.



   

Monday, 19 June 2017

Hi, Baby!

We've all seen them. We all know them. Some of us have given birth to them.

The Hi Baby.

I'm not sure where we heard or saw it, but years ago, Jason and I heard the expression, and it's so right, so perfect, that it has since become a family code phrase (insert disclaimer re: intellectual property and credit for whatever comedian coined it here).

Very few babies are born adorable. Most, in fact, are downright funny looking. Their heads are misshapen, they have strange bruises and lesions and skin afflictions, and in general, wouldn't pass muster in Hollywood. And some? Some are like a bag of snakes.

These are the Hi Babies.

Please, please, don't get all upset and offended and write me and tell me I'm a bad person who hates children... I don't. I'm referring to natural childhood grostequery, not genuine physical deformities, illnesses, or conditions visible to the naked eye. (Incidentally, when meeting THIS baby, arrive with dinner, a bottle (or 3) of wine, and lots of time to congratulate/listen/babysit/do laundry/rail at the universe/get the hell out/hug. If you can't arrive with all that, be a better person).

ANYWAY. This is how nature works- it's all checks and balances. At some point in your life, you will not be the best looking kid in your class. But that's ok. Maybe you're gorgeous in high school, or find the cure for cancer in your 40s, or are a musical prodigy. Where one door is shut (sometimes with unnecessarily excessive force directly in the facial area), another opens. I'm speaking from experience. I myself have both, at varying times, been, and spawned, a Hi Baby. 

Usually, it's temporary. We fill out with baby fat, skulls realign, cheeks get all pinchable, and we learn how to wrap every adult in a 15 foot radius around our little fingers. Most Hi Babies are only Hi Babies for a very short period of time, but be warned, oh, childless masses, if you have to introduce your kid to the world at large in the middle of it, you'll hear it

Hi babies are the ones who are SO unfortunate looking that rather than exclaim "What gorgeous eyes!" "What a stunning smile!" "What gorgeous skin!" the ONLY response you can come up with upon gazing upon them for the first time is...

(Fortissimo, high C# Major)

"HIIIII, baby!!!"

Years ago, we were at a company Christmas party, and as myself, Jason, Isaiah and Liz left our hotel room with 17 day old Squid (the party was at the Banff Springs- not even childbirth could keep me from going), we ran into an engineer I worked with, accompanied by his wife and 1- month old youngest daughter.

This guy, although pompous and cocky to the extreme, was gorgeous. He was one of those people you look at just cause they're pretty- like a sunset, or a dark haired, perfectly sculpted rainbow. His wife (as well as being infinitely more pleasant), was also beautiful. That's why it was such a shock when we admired each other's new babies, and discovered to our dismay that they had given birth to the Toxic Avenger. 

I smiled at the infant, and without even thinking, chirped,

"HIIIII, baby!!!"

And Jason, at the same time, said the only thing worse.

"What a PRETTY dress!"

We realized it the minute it left our mouths, and for the following 3 minute conversation, shaking with barely restrained laughter, not a soul in my family could look at any of the others. We finally turned away, with goodbyes and commitments to chat later, walked quietly back into our suite, and proceeded to dissolve into puddles of silent hysteria. Not at the baby, you understand, but at the realisation that it's an actual, proven phenomenon.

You can laugh. It's ok. Don't act like you're better than this. It's a spontaneous reflex, I swear to God. No one wants to be the one to tell someone that the tiny miracle sprung forth from their loins, this blessing from God, the answer to all their prayers, ****THEIR CHILD**** actually makes a pretty good looking monkey. It's a protective reflex, like when Jason can't hear me when I ask if the pants make me look fat. It's better for all of us, trust me.

And if it makes you feel any better, I will pay for it. When I finally get to my special reserved chair in hell, with my very own engraved nameplate, I'm reasonably sure the face Beezelbub will return to me for the rest of eternity is this one:



My mother loved it, I suppose.






Thursday, 15 June 2017

Advice from a Couple That Clearly Knows What They're Doing

(Disclaimer: This is my first blog in about a year, and I hadn't written regularly for about a year before that. For a while, the world didn't feel right to me, and the funny fell out of life. So I stopped. (In hindsight, not writing probably made it worse). Life is easier now, and the humour has come back- enough so that I have enough ideas to get me started again. But like I said, this is the first one in a while, so don't set your expectations too high.)

(PS- I missed you.)





Jason and I have been married for 21 years. Although not overly impressive in itself, when you factor in a surprise baby born to teenage McDonald's employees, and the resulting years of abject poverty, I feel like a high five is appropriate. When you factor in the FURTHER realization that I have spent my entire 42 years never having been wrong, and have had to coach poor, misguided, constantly wrong Jason every step of the way, high fives give way to actual gold plated statuettes. 

(I'M KIDDING. I am wrong quite often. It happened as recently as 2014- I know, cause I wrote it down on the calendar.)

I'm hoping one day, our great-grandchildren will come to us before their weddings and ask (in a somewhat reverential tone), how we did it- how to make it all work.

And I'm hoping one day, we'll have an answer for them. There's no one thing I can point to and say "This. This is what did it. Do the 'this', and you will be happily married till the end of your days", but I have some ideas. They may need refinement before I share them with the Gen XYZ 2.0'ers, though. 

1) Be too poor to split up.

I'm dead serious. 18 and 19 year olds with babies living in shitty apartments on fast food wages ARE NOT DESTINED FOR LONG TERM SUCCESS. We both know it and fully admit it- had we not had Isaiah, there is absolutely no way either of us would have bothered to put in the kind of effort required to sustain a marriage. After the very first post-50-cent-draft-night-at-Dooie-Steven's argument, one or the other one of us would have packed up our mix tapes and gold chains and blown the hell out of that pop stand.

As a long-term strategy, I realise it's not super effective, especially given that the goal of most marriages is to make it OUT of the poverty-stricken first few years, but if you time it right, by the time you start being able to afford 2 residences, you'll have learned to like each other again. If not, hopefully by then you'll have had kids, and and the cost of child support will delay the process another few years.

Seriously, though- marriage is WORK. A lot of it. Marrying my husband has been the best and smartest thing I've done in life, but it's also the hardest job I've ever had.

2) LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. 

I get that there needs to be that first spark, and that physical attraction is what human beings are primed to see first, but sweet Mother of Pearl- if you can't adjust your perspective, STAY OFF INSTAGRAM, or it will lead to divorce. Anyone going into wedded bliss expecting roses and chocolate strawberries and Chris de Burgh in the background EVERY SINGLE DAY is going to be deeply disappointed. Stomach flu happens. People get fat. You're working third shift. One night, his toenail will gouge a hole in your calf, waking you from a dead sleep. You will get diarrhea. He will grow a creepy moustache. And when all of that happens, you sure as hell need to have something in common besides the physical- current events only carry you so far.

3) Learn from history.

Jason and I learned a great deal from our parent's marriages. His parents were supremely happy together till his dad passed away when he was 11, and he has learned to value the time he gets. My parent's marriage taught me how I expect to be treated by the men in my life, and what standards I want to hold them to. We try not to repeat yesterday's screw ups, and are constantly working towards something better. We know now that I have trouble keeping every thought to myself, regardless of how inappropriate they are, and that Jason internalises his feelings to the point where it can be hard to tell he has any. We meet in the middle now (usually accompanied by a cartoonish smashing noise, and lots of yelling).

4) Marry your best friend.

I know it's super cheesy, but by the time you marry someone, shouldn't they be the person you would most like to spend time with? If they're not that person- MARRY THE OTHER ONE. Why not spend your emotional energy on the one you value the most?

We were best friends before we started dating. You could generally find us at Shappay's right after school, drinking cups of cheap coffee and sharing a plate of onion rings and ketchup. We only ever played 3 or 4 songs on the juke box, and those songs are more 'our songs' than the first dance at our wedding will ever be. Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven', Madonna's 'This Used To Be My Playground', and Sophie B. Hawkins' 'Damn, I Wish I was Your Lover' (in retrospect, Jason always picked that one, and I'm only just now realising how truly obtuse I was back then). I pierced his ear (badly). He did my math homework (with far greater success than with which I pierced his ear). We hung out at the smoke doors. We gabbed on the phone for hours. So when eventually we started dating, the progression was so natural we didn't really even notice the change. I'm not saying you have to have that kind of history with everyone, but it's nice to have someone who GETS YOU. When I say 'Goodnight, Dick', I don't have to explain that I'm not suggesting sexy time, but rather that I'm referring to the Smothers brothers. When he says 'Hi, baby', I know exactly what he thinks of the infant in front of him. That's the kind of stuff that only comes with time and (ad nauseum) repetition and a mutual sense of humour.

5) Watch out for the deal breakers.

I'm not talking about the shit that can happen AFTER marriage, like cheating or alcoholism, or abuse- those should go without saying. I'm referring to the stuff beforehand. I joke about how Jason only ever wanted 1 kid, but it's one of those things I say cause it's funny, not because it's true. Half our offspring started as a twinkle in HIS eye, when I thought I was good and done. If someone doesn't want kids before marriage, you're not changing them afterwards. It took me five years to get rid of Jason's favourite pair of JEANS- I don't have another 30 to spend questioning whether or not to populate the planet. Why create obstacles when so many already exist?

Religion is another one. Unless you can find a way to mesh your ideas of spirituality, it's gonna be a factor later. Jason and I are both Christian, majoring in 'I've had enough organised religion for now, thanks' and minoring in 'Let the kids choose for themselves when they get older so we don't have to go to church and as a bonus, we look super tolerant.' If you have to fight over a church wedding vs. a JP, you're already on shaky footing. Figure out the math BEFORE you have the argument about giving up Matzoh balls for Lent, that's all I'm saying.

6) Chill. The Hell. Out.

I was serious about the Instagram thing. If you're too worried about appearances, and how everyone else is perceiving your marriage, you are setting yourself up for failure. Just be ridiculous. We spent our (very generous gift of a) honeymoon in Disneyland, doing what WE wanted. Neither of us were interested in a romantic beach getaway, or a couples massage or the lights in Paris at night. We wanted churros and $32 frozen bananas. We camp together ALL THE TIME, cause it's when we're at our most relaxed (usually). We still hang out at the mall and people watch, and we genuinely enjoy doing things together. We tease each other, and make fun of each other (probably too often), and subsequently bicker, and that's fine. 5 years ago, we stopped fighting about who would do it and just agreed to pay someone to mow the lawn. I (tried) to stop correcting his grammar. He's stopped keeping track of who got to sleep in (it was me).

Granted, all of this gets easier and easier as the kids get older and there's less exhaustion and stress and fewer sleepless nights. I wish we could have learned all of this 21 years ago when our big kids could have learned it from us, but I'm content that we ARE learning. We're getting better at marriage every year. We don't make the same  mistakes we made 10 years ago- we make new and different ones. We've stopped wasting time arguing about the little things so we can save it for the actual big things. We've learned that in an emergency, our immediate reaction is to work together, rather than let it divide us, and we've learned that although our methods may be different, our end goals are exactly the same. We have spent the last 21 years growing into our marriage, and every passing year reinforces the fact that we made the right choice.

So I'm hoping one day, that when we sit before our (awed and adoring and a little humbled in the presence of matrimonial greatness) great-grandchildren and they ask us that question, we will know to tell them all these things.

(Or at the very least, have had the lucidity to understand what they're saying, and the foresight to have had the answer printed on a colour pamphlet.)

Happy 21, babe. I love you.