It’s hard to believe that 14 years ago, my youngest son was born.
It seems like just a few months ago, he was talking to me in the car about being excited to ride the “roll-up posters” at Kings Island, and how his favorite dinner is “pasghetti.”
On the day he was born, he weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces and was about 21 inches long. Now, he’s 150 pounds, and towers over my 5 foot 4 inch frame. Where I used to hug him and rock him to sleep, he now holds me when I’m tired of dishes, dirty laundry and dog walking.
And he’s always there to make me laugh.
Max is known for his sense of humor in our house. Whether it’s talking at the dinner table, or just popping off some little quip, he usually has us in stitches by the end of the day.
One day, my husband, Max and I were at dinner. Max, like usual, ordered a grilled cheese and French fries. And like usual, as a parent, my husband felt that he was entitled to a Daddy tax of a few French fries. As he grabbed a fry from Max’s plate, Max protested by pulling away his little cup of ketchup.
Of course, Max pulled it away a little too quickly, and the ketchup slurped out of the cup and spilled all over Max’s new surfing shirt.
Max looked up at his Dad a little scared, worried that he would be in trouble for getting his new shirt dirty.
But his Dad just smiled. Not one to miss a beat, his Dad dragged his French fry up Max’s shirt and through the ketchup, saying “You know what they say, Max…waste not, want not.”
Without skipping a beat, Max looked at his Daddy and said “You know what they say, Dad… I got this shirt from the hamper.”
But he wasn’t always that way.
When he was first born, Max looked like he was angry.
For the first three or four months of his life, Max didn’t smile. His face had a permanent sort of scowl – furrowed brow, drawn down mouth, piercing eyes. He just looked at the world like he was trying to figure everything out. When people would come up close to him, he would cock his head slightly to the left and stare at people like they were aliens from another planet.
I remember my Mom putting him one of those wind up swings one day. We both thought that he would start to giggle like every other kid did. So we stood there and watched, waiting for a smile to break out on his face and little giggles to bubble out of his mouth.
But no, Max just looked like he was mad that the perspective kept changing.
To be honest, I felt like I was going to be cursed to have a disgruntled teen ager at age two.
I began to wonder if there wasn’t something wrong with him. In fact, I remember thinking I needed to take him to the doctor, but wondered what I would say to him.
“Well, doctor, the rest of us smile, and he doesn’t. There isn’t anything wrong with him, is there? It’s not like he could have been born without a funny bone or a sense of humor, right?” “The rest of us are funny… here, let me tell you a joke… see?”
We were concerned that if we didn’t do something our little guy would suffer, and us along with it.
Instead, we waited. And watched. All the while, Max scowled. And watched.
Then one day, he didn’t.
He was sitting in his swing while I did the dishes and his 2-year-old big brother, Mason, was playing with his feet and talking to him. Mason got right up into his face, stuck his tongue out at him and said something to him in that gibberish brothers learn to say to each other.
Max’s face swirled up into a grin. That spread into a smile. And that erupted into a giggle.
From there on, it never stopped.
Since then, he’s done stand up comedy as his talent in his fifth grade talent show, spent hours getting us laughing to the point of crying and coming up with some of the funniest one-liners we’ve ever heard. He’s written stories that have heroes turning paper and words into weapons, some of which were jokes that killed. He’s come up with new words that are part of our family vocabulary.
When the car gets dirty, he calls it a “kid sty.”
When I told him I was upset that neither he nor his brother ever got a “terrific kid” award from their elementary school for good behavior, his response that I should follow the car in front of us that had one of the said bumper stickers on it, until it pulled into a parking lot, at which time he’d be happy to hop out of the car and rip it off their bumper for me.
When I asked him the year before last if he’d like to have a video game playing birthday party with different systems in each room of the house, and each system accompanied by different snacks, candy, pizzas and cokes…. he said that would be pure Nerdvana.
It was like something went off in Max’s head that day and he finally got the joke. Better still, he wanted to tell it to us.
He still scowls when he doesn’t understand things, or when he’s frustrated with the rules that are set down for him that he feels are arbitrary and stupid. But as for the rest of the world… he gets it. And he’s ready to share the laughs with the rest of the world.
© Liz Carey 2014
So, when you move to the Upstate of South Carolina, one of the first things you learn is that the Confederacy was born and died right next door in Abbeville County.
Jefferson Davis signed the Articles of the Confederacy during a meeting at the Burt-Starke House in the city of Abbeville, county seat of Abbeville County. Five years later, when the War of Northern Aggression (seriously, that’s what some call it STILL) came to a close, Confederate troops ran through Anderson with the Confederate gold, and stopped at the Burt-Starke Mansion to let Davis sign the treaty that ended the Civil War.
The other thing you learn pretty quickly is that there is a big Black population here. When I lived in Cincinnati, it was shocking how few African-Americans were in the area. That area had about a 5 and 10 percent black population, but here it’s closer to 35 percent, if not higher in some areas.
So, I’d been here for about 6 months, and my newest friend was the public information officer for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. She invites me out to “choir Practice” on a Wednesday night – which is so named because it’s Karaoke night at the Islander, which she gets to go to while her step mom takes her son to church. So, my friend is recently divorced and was there at choir practice with her then loser boyfriend Steve. And Steve, because I’m a reporter and I’m new, starts telling me all about the area. And since he has lived here forever, he just won’t quit. And I’m looking over to my friend to have her help me, but she’s off singing (if you can call it that) karaoke to “You give love a bad name” which seems appropriate for her ex, but seems to be a bad sign for the relationship if it’s about Steve.
Anyway, I’m trying to pay attention to Steve, which is hard because he’s really boring, when he says “Has anyone told you about the Black Panthers in Abbeville?”
Immediately, my ears pricked up. Having covered Klan rallies in Oxford, Ohio and going through riots in Cincinnati, and almost covering the Klan in Brookville, Indiana, I was immediately interested.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “They’re all over the place. I’ve seen a bunch of them in Abbeville.”
Now, I had just gotten finished writing a story about this guy that ended up stealing about $3k made during an event that was supposed to go to charity. And my editor was constantly telling me to “go out there and rake some muck.” And I’m thinking “Holy crap! Militant black activists in the cradle and grave of the Confederacy? What the heck?! This is going to be a great story!!!”
So I start pumping Steve for more info and I’m asking him where these black panthers are and what they do and what everyone thinks about them. They live in Abbeville, he says, and everyone pretty much ignores them because what else are you going to do, you don’t see them much, so it’s not like you can shoot them.
To say I was a little shocked at that sentence is an understatement.
And then he says “Oh, yeah, I see them all the time on my way to and from work driving down the Abbeville Highway.”
I was looking at him like a deer hit by a bus and I ask, “Well, how can you tell they’re black panthers?”
And without batting an eye he says “Oh, that’s easy – you can tell cause of their long tails. Otherwise, they’d just be bob cats….”
My chin almost hit my beer glass my jaw fell open so much.
Yup…. Welcome to the rural South, Miss Uppity Northern Reporter…
© Liz Carey 2014
Remember when you were a kid and your Mom would ask about your “little friends”? It never failed to make my blood boil when she said that. What the hell, did she want to tick me off with that?
Now that I’m a parent, I really don’t want to intentionally torch my relationship with my sons, most of the time. But there are times when you just want to tweak their little noses. Part of being a parent is pissing off your kids. It’s just a natural part of life. When they’re young and vulnerable, we think they’re cute and we want to hold them and protect them and take care of them. It’s when they turn into adolescents that we realize we want them out of the house as soon as possible and hope they take their smarmy attitude with them.
And that’s good because otherwise, they’d all end up getting jobs delivering pizzas and living in our basements watching science fiction or playing video games until they’re in their 30s. That’s a situation no one wants.
These days, there’s just a plethora of things you can do to really torque off your kids.
1) Sing and dance in the grocery store. Yeah. If parents weren’t meant to dance in the grocery store they wouldn’t play Jack Johnson. Besides, what else are you going to do to ignore the constant “Hey, Mom, can we get this?” and the ever present “But I promise I’ll pay you back!” that seems to go on ad infinitum with grocery shopping. Dancing next to the taco kits is a sure fired way to send them running to the magazine aisle.
2) Start using their vocabulary – nothing sucks the coolness out of a word more for a teen than having it come out of your mom’s mouth. Start using words like “Jank,” “Nappy” and “Miz” in everyday conversation and see how quickly it loses its luster. In fact, I suggest you do this with any phrase you detest or have heard to the point of nausea…
3) Post pictures of them as a baby on Facebook, tag them and make comments about how cute they look in whatever baby outfit they are wearing. Ditto for the cute naked butt pics from infanthood.
4) Comment on their Facebook status updates. There’s nothing less cool than having your “Mom” say something dorky when you’re trying to impress some chic. “Like” their status? You might as well be hugging them in public. And follow them and/or their friends on Twitter? Be prepared to get the “Mooooom! That is SOOOOOO weird!!!”
5) Dance in the car. As embarrassing as it is for you to get caught singing at the top of your lungs at a stop light, or seat dancing to the newest P!nk song, it’s mortifying for them. Especially when you’re in the car rider pick-up line.
6) Like cooler music than them or force them to listen to 80s and 90s dance music. When their friends like your music, better than they like their music? SCORE!! With any luck, you’ll end up having them sing AC/DC or Aerosmith to you as their new “fave old school jam.” Word.
7) Drag them to the library, museum, cultural exhibit of the day. What better way to jerk your kids around than to make them learn something? Better yet, do a craft that is uber-appealing, but has educational value, like making rock candy… they’ll want to do it so much, but there’s that icky “Science Lesson” component that makes them truly want to hate it… Pure parental torture. Insert evil witch cackle here.
8) Play with their hair or other features in public. I’m not just talking about mom spit. I mean, just the mere suggestion that you’re going to fix their disheveled hair with your fingertips is enough to get the “Moooooooom” moan and eye roll. Of course they look better when you’re done, but they’ll just mess it all up again when you turn your back. Better to just stand there and do it constantly until they get really ticked and agree to cut their hair in some other style than the Beiber.
9) Figure out dorky names to call them in public. Some things never change. “Booger Bear” may have been cute when they were five, but once they get past eight, you’re doomed if you use it in public. However, it’s a good tool to use if you want them to stop talking to you and fume for a while. “Can you grab the door for me Booger Bear?” in front of their friends will almost assure that you’ll sit interruption free in front of the television for hours.
10) Join groups on Facebook discussing with other parents how to tick off their kids. DOUBLE SCORE! Triple points if you post pics of their reactions when you follow a suggestion.
© Liz Carey 2014
The Kitchen God’s Whine
Exactly what do I have to sacrifice to the kitchen gods in order to get a good can opener?
I’ve already sacrificed the skin on my right arm to the oven gods for good cookies, and the skin on the roof of my mouth for good taste, but now… I’m willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for a good can opener.
And by “good,” of course, I mean, “one that works.”
As I was making shepherd’s pie last night for dinner, I struggled to get the can opener to actually open a can.
I clamped the opener down, turned the enormous handle and after only half a turn discovered it wasn’t cutting the can lid off anymore. Naturally, I started over again, only to have to start over another half a turn later. Clearly, this isn’t how can openers are supposed to work.
I’ve had can openers before that worked. They would glide through the cans of vegetables and soup like they were slicing through butter. But eventually, they would break down and move from the overflowing kitchen utensils drawer to the “oh, yeah, it still works occasionally, so let’s not throw it away” camping box.
Truth be told, I’m pretty sure it’s more important to have a can opener that works out in the wild where your life depends on it, than it is in the kitchen where you could just go to the store and get fresh food instead.
Now that I have kids, can openers are more crucial to my cooking equipment than a slotted spoon or fish spatula. If I can’t open up a can of something, my kids might not eat anything at all. My kids just don’t seem to appreciate home cooked meals. If they had their druthers, it would be baked beans and hot dogs, or cans of ravioli every day.
As I stood there struggling with the can opener, it made me wonder whether Gordon Ramsey ever has to worry about whether or not his can opener works. Then again, I’m pretty sure he never makes shepherd’s pie with cans of tomato soup and green beans.
And I’ll bet he never has to worry about picky child eaters. I’ll bet he never spends time covering only three quarters of HIS shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes so as not to invoke the “EWWWW” reflex in one of his children, like I do.
I imagine his children probably come to the dinner table saying “Oh Papa, what wonderful creation have you prepared for us tonight? Another dinner of garam masala with basmati rice and mango kulfi for dessert? Marvelous, papa, simply marvelous!”
If he lived in my house, he’d get “Really Dad? Lamb shanks with oven roasted leeks and parsnips again? Can’t we just have canned beans and weenies like Neville’s mom makes? I mean, seriously… ”
But, if he did make them that, I’m pretty sure HIS can opener would work.
© Liz Carey 2014