How are we supposed to take Curvy Barbie?

This weekend, I watched a story on the new Barbies.

Apparently, you can now get Barbie in sizes other than “bone thin and completely unrealistic.”

people-barbieAccording to Mattel, Barbie will now come in four different sizes, seven different skin colors, 20+ different eye and hair colors and, presumably, an inordinately large number of coordinating outfits and shoes, some of which you will even be able to find after you open the package.

There’s Tall Barbie, Petite Barbie and Curvy Barbie to go along with “regular” Barbie – still super model on crack thin with annoyingly perky boobs.

The new dolls are a response to concerns that Barbie promotes an unrealistic body image to girls and add to body issues.

And it only took 60 years – go figure.

As near as I can tell, Curvy Barbie consists of thunder thighs and small boobs. I would put her at about a size 12. Granted, I’m about as fashion conscious as a linebacker for the Houston Oilers, so I wouldn’t take my word for that.

Petite Barbie is just shorter with the same sized boobs and Tall Barbie is just Barbie after a few hours on a Medieval rack.

But the thing that struck me was that after the piece on Barbie was over a Weight Watcher’s commercial came on….starring Oprah.

Huh.

So, the goddess of the television, whom we’ve all watched struggle with her weight is now hawking Weight Watchers.

What does THAT say to girls about body image?

oprah-winfrey-weight-watchers-commercial__oPtFor most of the women I know, they related to Oprah because she wasn’t perfect. Oprah had curves. Oprah looked good despite her curves. Oprah succeeded in spite of her curves, not due to her lack of them. Oprah was, and still is, funny, savvy, smart and compassionate. No one looks at Oprah and says, “She would get so much farther in life if she’d just drop 10 pounds.”

Trust me, I’ve heard that in my life.

She was perfect because she WASN’T perfect.

And we all related to that.

But now, are we saying “not perfect” isn’t enough?

I know the commercial says we should want to find our “best” us, but damn… isn’t what they’re really saying is that the “you” that you are right now ISN’T your “best” you.

I wonder how that makes women who’ve identified with her for such a long time feel.

About the same time, a friend sent me the daily diet of California juice guru Amanda Chantal Bacon as published in Elle magazine.

Af285f930090179560c060802ef21f5fapparently, this female entrepreneur’s diet consists of mostly teas, peppered with the occasional zucchini ribbon, and a bevy of other ingredients of her own discovering like brain dust, vanilla mushroom protein, coryceps and activated cashews.

God knows, nothing is worse than eating those regular old, lazy, inert cashews.
Now, let’s not forget that this Bacon girl, whose name is only slightly ironic given her air-based diet, is the guru to the star whose mere existence makes the rest of us look pallid in comparison – Gwyneth Paltrow.

According to Goop, Paltrow’s … jeez, I don’t even know what the hell to call Goop… other than the only place I know where vapid blog posts about how you, you lowly earthly scum, can’t even boil an egg right, and need this web site to learn how to do it better than Martha Stewart, all while buying $5,000 juicers and $1,800 sweaters to go along with your $400 lip balm.

Anyway, apparently, Goop says G.P. went to Bacon in the throws of a “Brain Fog”, only to have Bacon sell her a full supply of $65 jars of Moon dust and some activated fermented sea vegetables to nibble on. Seems it not only cleared up her brain fog, but helped her extra sensory perception as well.

I swear, I really wish I were making this up.

So, Elle – a magazine whose media packet boasts that the majority of its readers are 18- to 49-year-old women who are, according to Robbie Meyers, editor-in-chief, “the first person to try something and she brings all of her friends along on her fantastic journey” – decides to publish a diet for a woman who believes in Cosmic provisions and preventing your body from having to actually chew anything as disgusting as, well, … food.

How does THIS help women’s body images?

How in the world is a fat doll supposed to help girls with their body image if everything around them says “Hey, it’s not enough to be thin, you need to live off air, and if you’re not skinny, you should be ashamed of yourself no matter how successful you are because it’s not your ‘best’ you”?

Why even worry about putting out a fat doll, at all?

Until everything else changes, nothing Curvy Barbie says to girls is going to make a bit of a difference – except to reinforce for girls who don’t fit into regular Barbie’s image that they’re somehow not as “good” as the original.

When I was a little girl, I had Barbie. I got the airplane for Christmas along with Barbie, Ken and Skipper. And Barbie’s horse. I distinctly remember Barbie pushing the serving cart around the plane while Skipper headed off on the horse to see what was going on with my Star Wars figures.

Barbie looked really pretty in her clothes, when I could get them on her. Although I have to admit she spent a lot of time sitting around looking pretty while I played with my science kit or my Dad’s microscope (with my hand-made slides of squooshed bugs, blood and the occasional booger).

apollo and starbuckShe always smiled politely while Skipper and I battled Darth Vader, or occasionally joined Captain Apollo and Lt. Starbuck in some attempt to outwit and evade the Cylons.

And I’m pretty sure even Skipper wasn’t around the day my friend Claire and I decided that all of the floors in my mom’s house were lava and the ottomans were our only way to get from room to room. Traveling down the stairs and into the hallway to the guest room on that ottoman is an adventure I will never forget.

Yeah…. Sorry Mom.

But still, for YEARS, I struggled with who I was, based on who I was not. I didn’t even LIKE Barbie and I STILL compared myself to her. I had a picture of what I thought were the perfect Barbie-esque thighs hanging next to my full-length mirror in my closet from the time I was in junior high until I graduated high school. As a matter of fact, they are still there.  As a swimmer and a curvy girl, I was never going to have that kind of thigh gap. But I still felt like that was what would make me popular/datable/attractive/successful/perfect.

I’m not Barbie. I’m not like the women I see on TV. Hell, I’m not even as skinny as “plus-sized” models!

And that’s okay.

Now.

It wasn’t okay for a long, long time. Truth be told, I still have trouble with it sometimes – breaking down in tears because I don’t look like what women who are not the butt of jokes and wisecracks are supposed look like.

I wonder what’s going to happen to those little girls who get curvy Barbie?

Are we still telling them at an early age “You’re just not measuring up, honey.”?

What are we telling girls if on the one hand we’re telling them “Here’s a doll that looks more like you,” and on the other telling them “You know, honey, being a successful multimedia mogul isn’t enough. You have to be thin too?” What are we telling them when we glorify a woman whose whose $700 a day diet has fewer calories than Gandhi lived on?

Why not just tell them it’s okay to be who they are and what they are?

Girls don’t need a doll to tell them they don’t look like other girls in school. Trust me, they know already.

And they don’t need idols telling them you can have everything, but it’s not enough if you’re not thin.

Girls need other women telling them to be who they want and be proud of who they are. And they need guys in their life telling them they like girls with curves too.

 

Copyright © Liz Carey 2016

Images remain the property of their respective owners.

Why the Easter Bunny still visits our house

Even though my sons are 16 and 15, the Easter bunny still visits my house.

easter-basketGranted, the baskets aren’t as elaborate as they once were, but they are still full of chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and the occasional Peep.

This year, there was none of the plastic grass that clings to every living thing in the house, and it lacked its usual bevy of toys. But each one did include an envelope full of money, which is all my sons really wanted in the first place.

The solid chocolate break apart bunny was just a bonus.

After all, they’re teenagers and toys, candy, colored eggs and plastic doo dahs don’t do it for them as much as cold hard cash-ola.

Ever since they were born, they’ve been the recipients of gifts brought to them by anonymous mythical creatures who wish to buy their love through sweets and trinkets.

At the same time, we’ve spent their formative years telling them to beware of evil men in cars with lollipops and missing puppies who are waiting for the opportunity to kidnap them and of “stranger danger.”

No wonder this generation is completely screwed up.

Throughout their childhood, from the tooth fairy to the Big Guy himself (you know – Mr. Claus) to the Birthday Monsters, there seemed to be no end to the parade of mystical creatures bestowing gifts on my kids.

Sandra Boynton's Birthday Monsters
Sandra Boynton’s Birthday Monsters

Spoiler alert kids – Some of them are completely made up.

Take for instance, the Birthday Monsters.

When my guys were very little, every year on the night before their birthday, I read to them Sandra Boynton’s “The Birthday Monsters.”

In the story, a group of monsters comes to visit you and proceeds to celebrate your birthday by wrecking your house, opening your gifts and eating your cake, only to make it all perfect again before they leave.

Somewhere along the way, in our house, this turned into a tradition of waking up on one’s birthday morning to find presents on the kitchen table and eating birthday cake for breakfast.

All these early morning discoveries, of course, required a lot of late night basket decorating, stocking stuffing, quarter leaving and present wrapping on the part of one particular person in our household.

I remember one year talking online with a friend and asking them if they thought it would be okay if I left the boys alone in the house, since they were asleep upstairs, and ran to the store to grab more Easter candy for their baskets. They weren’t particularly enamored with the idea. I ended up filling some plastic eggs with spare change that year instead.

More spoiler alerts kids – now might be a good time to go watch a YouTube video or something.

My oldest son, Mason, figured it all out when he was 8 years old. He came to me and said “You’re the birthday monsters, aren’t you?”

Look! Mom has wings!
Look! Mom has wings!

I admitted that I was.

“That makes you the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Oh… then that means,… hmmm,” he said. He knew it all.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” I said.

When my youngest son, Max, found out he was nearly 13. For years, he had been a believer, even to the point of ringing a Christmas bell around us (while we had to act like it was broken) to prove that the magic in it still worked.

Once the realization the Big Guy was just me, all the other night visitors fell into their appropriate places in history for Max. His belief suspended, he realized the myths for what they were.

“My whole life has been a lie,” he lamented.

I guess it never occurred to him before then that it was a little strange that every few months supernatural beings were breaking into our house, not to mention stalking us and keeping tabs on our behavior.

Of course, these mythical entities were great discipline tools. Mom had Santa’s cell phone number. She would let the tooth fairy know if one of those bicuspids didn’t exactly fall out on its own. And no one wanted to see what the Easter bunny would leave if he got an email telling him they weren’t picking up their room.

But now, those tricks don’t work. They know there will be an Easter basket on the kitchen table even if they fail to change their sheets and that their Christmas stockings will always be full of the little joys they never expect.

So why do these gifts keep appearing?

finger-pointingMaybe it’s because I want them to be my kids always. I want them to know that they are loved. I want there to be one moment every once in a while where I can still surprise them to make up for the all the times I’ve yelled at them about grades and jobs and dirty laundry.

Maybe it’s a chance to spoil them when I’m so hard on them the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s because I like carrying on a tradition we started and which will one day be carried down to their kids.

Maybe it’s because the gifts are so appreciated. Today, when they got up at the crack of noon, they both got their Easter baskets and began to immediately make plans for the cash. Soon thereafter, Max came in the living room and hugged me. Mason, in turn, got out of bed and kissed me on the forehead.

They liked the baskets, even if they’re not full of jellybeans and Reese’s pieces and Peeps.

Those are the parts of the basket the Easter bunny kept for herself…

 

Copyright (c) 2015 Liz Carey

9 things I’d like to tell high school graduates

Since no one has invited me to speak at their high school graduation (yes, Ohio and Wisconsin, I’m looking at you – there’s still time!), I figured I would take it upon myself to let high school graduates know what I think.

You're almost on your way!
You’re almost on your way!

Personally, I’m pretty sure this is the safest way to do things, since sometimes, not even _I_ know what will come out of my mouth.

When I graduated from high school, more than 30 years ago, I felt I knew it all. Graduation comes with a feeling of excitement that parallels the feeling of being out on your own, almost – at least for many of you – and being away from the prying eyes of mom, dad, the nosy neighbor who always snitches on you and any younger siblings or cousins you may have.

You, as you sit there in that chair, are not imagining doing dishes, or getting up at unGodly hours of the morning to make your way to class/work/daycare. You are imagining a life where no one will tell you no.

I know this, because I was in your shoes once.

And that unbridled enthusiasm is a good thing. Really it is. It is what has propelled you through your high school years, and will propel you through your salad years. And for many of you, your Ramen noodle years.

But there are a few things you should know as you go out into the big blue world.

1) High school never ends. Remember how you used to talk to your friends during lunch? And you’d say “Oh. My. God… (please say this with me in your best surfer girl voice) I canNOT believe she is going out with HIM! What WAS she thinking?” and “Dude, he totes gets away with everything! It’s like the crap washes right off of him and lands on someone else.” Uhm, yeah… that never ends. Grown ups still do that, and we call it office politics and gossip. It never ever ends.

No one wants to visit you and your dirty bathroom.
No one wants to visit you and your dirty bathroom.

2) Learn how to clean a bathroom. This will become really, really important when you live alone and date. Same goes for learning how to master at least three really great recipes. I suggest Shrimp Scampi, Beef Tournedos and Chicken Marsala. Trust me on this.

3) Stop taking selfies. Seriously. We’ve all seen enough of you. Maybe you could, I don’t know, take pictures of the rest of the world. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there that may be a little more interesting than you, as hard as that is to believe, and you might want to remember it.

4) Read. I don’t care whether it’s books, newspapers, magazines, textbooks or auto manuals, just read. It is, by far the most important thing you have learned to do, and will continue to be the most important thing you will do in the future.

5) Learn to be by yourself. Because you will be. And it’s good to figure out how to not have someone else entertain you. It will come in handy during the rough times. Trust me on this as well.

big bang6) No one lives like they do in TV and the movies. No one gets 2-bedroom rent controlled apartments with great views on a physicist’s salary. People have jobs that they go to for upwards of 8 hours a day, five days a week, with paychecks that do not afford them the luxury of a daily cup of coffee at Starbucks unless they either go without dinner, or rack up debt equal to that of Bolivia’s. You are not going to leave college and land a $100,000 a year job managing a tech company. You will likely make $25,000 a year and struggle until you either a) get promoted; b) get married or c) die. And it’s okay. Because millions of people do it every year and are happy. Really. Happy. And if you’re not happy in your job, find a new one. If you enjoy what you do, you will reap more than just monetary benefits. Nothing sucks more than dreading to go to work. Nothing. But if you love what you do, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked at all.

7) No one owes you anything… not a job, not an education, not a happily ever after. You have to work for those things. Generations of your family have come before you to make it possible for you to have so much. Don’t blow it. You have just enjoyed an 18-year vacation. Go out and earn that.

No one gets a trophy for 9th place.
No one gets a trophy for 9th place.

8) There’s no trophy for ninth place. In fact, there’s no trophy for second place. As a member of the trophy generation, we know that you all have been given trophies for just showing up. Real life doesn’t work like that. Honestly, there’s no prize for anything other than first place. Strive always, for winning. And if you don’t win, try again. And again. And again. In fact, never stop trying to be the best even if no one ever rewards you for it. There is a prize for that too. It’s called pride.

9) Have fun. This is your place and time. These next few years will be some of the best of your life. One day, you will look back on these past four years, that have meant so much to you now, and you will think “What did I ever think was so fun about that?” At least, I hope you will. I hope that with every age and every stage of your life, the next one just becomes better than the last. High school, growing up, becoming an adult – it’s hard. But it gets better.

Life really is like an oyster bed… you pick one and eventually it opens up. It may be nothing more than an oyster – in which case, with a little hot sauce and lemon juice, you’ve got a helluva snack. But sometimes, it’ll have a pearl. You’ve got to keep trying until you find those pearls. Find a long string of them. To you, they will mean the world, because you worked for them, and you earned them. The easy ones – the one’s that open up quickly – those aren’t any good. They’ll make you sick. But the ones you have to work for? Those are the best ones and the ones you’ll remember.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

Soup beans and cornbread

 

Last Sunday was soup beans and cornbread night in our house.

Great Northern beans almost the way Dad made them... just need a little ketchup now...
Great Northern beans almost the way Dad made them… just need a little ketchup now…

It was 60s out in May in the South, so it was soup weather. And what good is soup without cornbread, right?

There was a time when I wasn’t exactly proud of telling anyone that we regularly ate soup beans.

I mean it is a reminder of my family’s poor upbringing. It’s rural Kentucky food. It’s mountain food. It’s not the food that anyone is going to put on the menu at a fine dining restaurant, but everyone has seen on the menu at Cracker Barrel.

Mine are nothing like what you get at Cracker Barrel… tonight it was pintos and salt pork with peppercorns. Throw it all in the pot with an onion and let it cook for hours and you’ve got a huge bowl of flavorful protein. Yum.

Sometimes, we have navy beans or great northern beans with left over ham. That’s my special favorite because it reminds me of my Mom’s house.

Sometimes, we have 15-bean soup, which comes with its own ham flavored seasoning pack, so you don’t have to add, you know, … meat. It’s the soup equivalent of Coors Lite – a little bit of flavor without any substance of any kind.

When I was a kid, it seemed like every time we went to my grandmother’s house to visit, we had soup beans and cornbread.

pintos-and-cornbread

I hated it.

In fact, I dreaded it.

The smell is unique and has a smoky sweetness with a sort of bacony aroma.

And every time I smelled it, I groaned.

But, it made sense. My grandparents weren’t rich, and soup beans were the best choice for them when the house went from two to six. Cheap and easy to make, it was a way to extend a meal to feed a crowd, no matter how many showed up.

But I hated it. It wasn’t bad. I mean, it’s tasty, but I wanted pizza or hamburgers, or fried chicken even. For a spoiled doctor’s daughter, soup beans were NOT the dinner one looked forward to.

Of course, my mom loved it. It was her mother’s cooking, after all. She loved going back to the comfort of her childhood.

I grew up hours away from my grandmother in Central Kentucky, but still my mom made Kentucky favorites. Summers were spent eating cottage cheese and tomatoes fresh out of the garden with a little dollop of mayonnaise on top. We had corn pudding for Thanksgiving dinner. Derby time always meant Derby pie.

And soup beans were a rarity, but a still on the menu

I couldn’t stand them. I just let my mom eat them.

It was like when our family went to Florida. Everywhere we stopped to eat, someone was handing us grits. The further south we got the more plates of grits piled up on the table. Actually, they all ringed my mother’s plate, as we all passed them to her and let her eat them. It’s honestly a miracle that woman didn’t blow up like a hot air balloon that summer.

It was like when our family went to Florida. Everywhere we stopped to eat, someone was handing us grits. The further south we got the more plates of grits piled up on the table. Actually, they all ringed my mother’s plate, as we all passed them to her and let her eat them. It’s honestly a miracle that woman didn’t blow up like a hot air balloon that summer.

At the time, I was starting to cook. I was 11 or so, and I discovered that I really enjoyed cooking, especially cooking for others. I made quiche because I thought it was cool. I made barbequed hot dogs on noodles when my mom went back to school. My aunt taught me to make pies using gooseberries that had been in the freezer since the day I was born. I learned how to make Mom’s chicken and dumplings and beef stew.

Of course I also wanted to expand my knowledge. I devoured cookbooks like some people do peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches. I learned about French cooking and the specialties of New England, and the differences between Northern Italian and Southern Italian cuisine.

I all but turned up my nose at the Kentucky food I had grown up on.

One day, I was reading a cookbook and found a recipe for Senate bean soup. I was thrilled. If it had the word “Senate” in it, it had to be special didn’t it?

look familiar? yeah... you'll find recipes for Senate bean soup in Bon Appetit, but soup beans and cornbread? Not so much...
look familiar? yeah… you’ll find recipes for Senate bean soup in Bon Appetit, but soup beans and cornbread? Not so much…

This was going to be my culinary adventure into Northern cooking, I thought. Why, they even had cans of it by some famous chef in the grocery store! It had to be excellent when made from scratch, right?

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the ingredients… beans, ham, water. It was fricking navy bean soup! Only with a few potatoes added.

Yep... sorry folks, polenta is Italian grits. Seriously. You can do this at home...
Yep… sorry folks, polenta is Italian grits. Seriously. You can do this at home…

Disgruntled at being tricked, I decided to only cook recipes from Europe from then on. I learned how to make shrimp scampi, paella and pate. By the time I had worked my way up to Italian polenta, I was a dutiful Europhile foodie … right up until I realized that polenta was basically fried grits.

All of the food I had hated during my childhood was loved by others. They just had different names!

Now in fact, a bowl of soup beans and cornbread is probably one of the most ordered side dishes in the South, right up there with macaroni and cheese, sausage gravy and biscuits and rice and gravy.

I’m telling you – don’t turn your nose up on rice and gravy until you try it…

But it wasn’t until after I graduated from college that soup beans and cornbread became my go-to comfort food.

Always on Sunday afternoons, when it was cool and rainy out, soup beans became this way for me to be home, without actually going home. It became the way to connect with my past, and rethink my future.

It’s the smell, I think. Its earthiness and richness grounds me. I can put them on the stove; take a nap and fall asleep dreaming of my old Kentucky home.

In our house, we eat soup beans differently – the way my dad did.

Traditionally, with soup beans, you eat them with raw onions broken up in the bowl and cornbread on the side. Since my husband can’t stand soup, he crumbles the cornbread right into the soup beans to make some sort of stew like substance.

My dad, however, ate them differently. You take the soup beans; you add ketchup and a forkful of sweet pickle relish. Why? I have no idea. Then again, my Dad perfected the fried bologna sandwich and was the first person to ever make yellow tomato ketchup.

I’m not sure that says anything about Dad, but I do know that’s the only way I will eat soup beans, regardless of the weird looks I get from waitresses in virtually ever restaurant I’ve ever eaten it in.

I know there are regional favorites that I’m sure some people identify with like I do bean soup. Maybe Mainers are like that when they eat New England clam chowder, or a lobster roll. Maybe Southwesternites are all happy when they eat Tex Mex. Maybe even Chicago-ites wax nostalgic when they eat a slice of pizza.

But none of them know what it’s like to eat a bowl of soup beans and be taken back to their grandmother’s house – with its heat vent in the middle of the hall, the smell of cigarette smoke and coffee in the air, and millions of memories lingering in the walls, the rooms and the furniture.

This past weekend, I made the guys French toast, bacon and grits. My kids rolled their eyes at the lumpy white mush. I’m hoping one day, they’ll look at a bowl of grits and think of their old Mom. Or at least take me on vacation and load me up with all their unwanted bowls of grits.

And maybe, one day, they’ll make a pot of soup beans and cornbread and smile.

As long as they eat it with ketchup and relish, I’m okay with that.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

 

Riding in cars with mom

The other day I came home to see my 15-year-old, Mason, in the passenger seat of a car driven by his newly drivers’ licensed friend.

They just were pulling out of our driveway as I drove up. While my heart sank, Mason looked at me from the window and waved.

kidsincarsI really could only think of one thing.

“Okay, Mom. I get it.”

All of a sudden, I could hear my Mom’s voice in my head – “I’m not sure I want you in a car with someone who just got their license.”

And I could feel it beginning to come out of my throat as I mouthed the words “Wait!”

As Moms we get to experience a lot of things – the joy of having your child wrap their fingers around yours; the frustration of a poop explosion at exactly the wrong moment; the heart-bursting pride of watching your child succeed when even they thought they couldn’t; the unexpected blend of concern and consternation when the projectile vomiting begins, and the awe of watching them grow up.

Life has its ups and downs.

We never really think about what it meant to be our moms, until one day, you’re confronted with the reality of being a mom yourself.

My Mom was pretty cool when I was Mason’s age.

She let me be myself, even though there was more than a little bit of gentle prodding to wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt, my Dad’s surgical scrubs or purchases from the Army/Navy store clearance rack.

She let me date losers to find out on my own what kind of losers they really were. And never ONCE did she say “I told you so.” Well, not to my face anyway. She told me once that she knew if she said “No,” I would run right to him and really be in trouble. Smart woman. And she did confide in me years later that she was really, really, REALLY glad her plan worked.

She bought me beautiful dresses and skirts when I needed them, even though I hardly ever wore anything other than jeans and usually ruined the whole girly look by doing something stupid like pulling the crinoline all the way up to serve as makeshift strapless bra or matching my beautiful madras plaid skirt to a popped collar polo under a ripped neck sweatshirt.

Look, I was going for a “Flashdance” meets “punk” meets “preppy” look. Don’t judge.

She was always there for me, always teaching me how to be a better person, how to let go of expectations, how to deal with tragedy with courage and bravery.

Still is, in fact.

But she always worried about me, especially when I was in a car.

woman-wagging-finger“Don’t let your friends drive too fast,” she’d say. “Stay off those country roads. Be careful at four-way stops. Don’t go too fast. Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? When will you be back?”

For me, it was pure torture.

“OH MY GOD! Does she NOT understand? Doesn’t she trust me? It’s not like I’m out doing drugs or screwing around, I’m just going out with friends! What harm is there in that? ”

What could possibly go wrong?

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I was worried. I didn’t want him to go. He was already out of my reach and slipping through my ever-controlling fingers more and more every day. I started to worry.

My Mom still worries when I’m driving.

I’d like to say this is due to the time I sort of stole the family station wagon and took all my friends for a joy ride before wrecking the car, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

She worries about what could go wrong.

Recently, on a drive from Kentucky to South Carolina, she was worried about me being careful. Not that she thinks I can’t drive, she says, but that other people are crazy.

 

potkettle“Look, pot, I want you to watch out for all the kettles…”

She warned me about the semis.

“You know, keep an eye out for those semis. Those truck drivers can be just dangerous. Every time you see one of those horrific accidents where a semi wrecks into another car and bursts into flames, it’s almost always on a Sunday afternoon.”

Thanks, Mom.

For the longest time, I used to roll my eyes and shake my head at her concerns.

But as I sat there in those fleeting seconds while Mason and his friend pulled out into the road, every possible “what could go wrong” – from running out of gas, to being attacked by mutant hill people, to getting hit by a semi – ran through my head.

Yes, those were actual thoughts that went through my head.

And I let them go anyway.

I realized being a mom is a job you keep forever. My mom will always worry about me, just like I will always worry about my sons.

But you have to let them go in order for them to come back.

I’m so not ready for mine to leave yet. There’s so much I still have to teach them… I’m not even sure if they wear clean underwear when they go out yet.

It takes strength to let someone go and trust they will come back to you.

As I waited for them to head out, Mason flashed me a smile and waved. He was elated. They were in charge of themselves for a while. They were making their own history.

finger heartThen he made a heart shape with his thumbs and fingers and blew me a kiss.

And I realized what my mom had gone through when she watched as I ran headfirst into the wind that was the rest of my life

And it clicked.

“Thank you, Mom, I finally get it.”

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

Taking care of business from a million miles away

A week ago, I was sitting down to dinner in the midst of more than 300 of the most amazing and funny women I had ever met.

But my head wasn’t really with them. It was at home.

For four days in April, every other year, more than 350 women and a few men gather together at the University of Dayton for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. And for more than six years, it was a dream to attend. This time around, I decided to go.

It was a huge sacrifice for everyone involved. I wouldn’t be there for my son’s last concert. The boys would have to get up and take the bus instead of having me drive them to school. Someone would have to cook dinner. There would be no one to remind people to take out the dishes, clean the bathroom, close the refrigerator door and empty out the cat litter box.

I imagined that they probably wouldn’t even notice that I wasn’t there until it was time for dinner to magically appear on the table.

I couldn’t have been more worried or more overjoyed.

Four days with complete control of the television remote, no dishes or laundry, a bed all to myself and no bickering over who got to listen to the iPod. I could go to the bathroom without some form of human or animal coming into the room. I could sit down to dinner without having to pop back up every time my butt hit the chair to get something for someone.

And as I live in South Carolina, it is only a 1,784,329 mile drive which takes roughly nine hours with the occasional pit stops… eight and a half if you wear those astronaut diapers. So, the plan was to leave on Wednesday afternoon and cover half the trip, then drive the rest of the way the next day. After four days of enlightenment, I would leisurely drive home, reveling in the experience and letting the knowledge and tutelage I had received absorb into my brain.

It didn’t take long after I left for my head to return home.

On Wednesday, things were fine. My son had had the courtesy of waiting until the night before to tell me that he had given his good suit pants away to Goodwill and had nothing to wear to his concert, so my husband was spared the last minute trip to KMart – one which I dutifully made at 8 p.m. instead of packing. On Wednesday night though I drove through the darkness and talked to them and my mother on the phone periodically, so I didn’t feel quite so alone.

The boys had refused to let me load all of my favorite songs on to a CD (“Mom, that is SO old school”) and had instead loaded them onto the iPod, which served the dual purpose of entertaining me, and preventing my husband from killing them for arguing over it for one more time. I cranked the tunes, sang at the top of my lungs through Tennessee and Kentucky and arrived Thursday afternoon, safe if not exhausted.

I got to the hotel just in time for the phone report on how the dinner preparations were going. I called later to find that the concert had been good, even if the drive in Dad’s Jeep had been a little cold. I imagined them getting pneumonia from riding with the top down, but I was assured all was well.

It wasn’t until Friday that I began to worry. While I was saying “Yes, I think I will have another glass of wine” to the waitress, the first call came in.

“Honey, where’s the duct tape?”

This is never a good thing.

No amount of distance can overcome the fear of what could possibly need to be fixed with duct tape.

According to my husband, everyone was in their rooms, innocently watching television, when they all heard the sound of glass breaking.

“I went into our bedroom, and there was a hole the size of a softball in the window.”

The duct tape was to hold the glass together until he had a chance to replace it. And he will. But still. The window was broken. I was in Dayton. He couldn’t find the duct tape.

They needed me.

We decided that it was probably a bird that overshot the roses that grow outside of our bedroom windows. With no evidence of a rock or baseball or brick, it was the most logical conclusion. The duct tape was found, the hole was covered and all was well with the world again.

The next day, my son called during lunch to ask me if I knew where any of his high school teachers lived.

This in and of itself is not the oddest question he may have ever asked me, but rightfully so, probably one of the more worrisome. It was all innocent, he protested. According to him, a restricted drivers license needs the signature of a person who works at his school.

“Honey, you don’t have a restricted license.”

No, but his friend was getting one, and they figured if they could get one of their teachers to sign the paperwork, they’d be able to take a quick trip to the DMV, get the license and go for a ride.

Clearly, they had never actually been to the DMV if they felt accomplish something through a “quick trip” there.

“As this is the weekend and the first day of Spring Break, I am pretty sure that showing up on the porch of one of your teachers would not endear them to you or resolve your issue,” I said.

Begrudgingly, he relented, although I’m pretty sure they resorted to the next best thing to Mom – Google. If only Google knew where their new shoes were.

Later that night, another call let me know that things weren’t going well. It was 7 o’clock and Dad was just starting the burgers on the grill. A warning to the boys that they needed to close their windows since they didn’t have screens in had been ignored and two other birds, apparently looking for revenge for their fallen brethren, flew into the house through my older son’s window while their Dad was at work. My son, his brother and his friend chased the two birds around the house in an attempt to catch them and get rid of them, and finally caught one of them with an old T-shirt.

As a mom, several things went through my head at this news:

A) did no one open the doors?

B) where were our four cats during this? and

C) what happened to the other bird?

All of this was relayed by phone. Naturally, I thought about running home and taking care of everything.

My husband said to stay.

“I’ve got this. We can survive without you. I’ve got everything under control.”

So, maybe they didn’t need me.

I went back to talking to my new friends, trading stories of motherhood and drinking more wine. While my head was there and I was enjoying my time, my heart was with my family.

The next day, I drove home quickly. I stopped, as I had planned, at an art museum to be free and artsy once again, but there was no one there to share it with, no one there to talk about it with, no one there to say “Mom, can we go now?”

I should have been happy to have had the time to myself, but all I could think about was getting home.

I drove straight through to get home before everyone went to bed. My arm and shoulder hurt from leaning on them in the car and my legs were cramping from the driving. But I made it home – to hugs and stories and kisses and a plate of dinner.

Instead of a mess of a house, I found a mopped kitchen, laundry thumping away in the dryer and a sink conspicuously clear of dishes.

They wanted me to be happy when I came home. And I was.

They may not have needed me, but they missed me, even through tribulations and an apparent bird invasion. And even though I wasn’t there to handle it for them, they managed… not because I had trained them, or they had learned from me, but because they were smart, capable men who could do for themselves.

I’ll remember that next time I don’t want to do dishes.

© Liz Carey 2014

He just got it

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.

Lucky us.

© Liz Carey 2014

Culture shift

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

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