Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tale of Thanksgiving Woe

It’s a very manic time of year. There’s a lot going on. There are Christmas concerts and projects and shopping and decorating and cookie baking and tortuous exercise because you are determined to lose that weight before New Year’s. So what if you procrastinated a bit. This is the perfect time of year to go on a diet.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving. I made rolls- from scratch- and they were delectable. I spent the day before Thanksgiving in the kitchen, in constant search of things I had purchased at the store and immediately misplaced.

“Where’s the cinnamon? Does anyone know where the cinnamon is?”

“Up your butt!” said my 4-year old, Daniel.

For the record, that’s not where I found it.

The best thing about Thanksgiving, of course, is reflecting on all of the things God has blessed me with. Four healthy, rambunctious children with their father’s primitive sense of humor, a husband who has a good job in this horrific market, a supportive extended family, wonderful friends, food in the cupboards, clean water, medical insurance, and warm cups of tea on dreary, grey days.

The second best thing is leftovers.

I like turkey sandwiches. Leftover turkey warmed up on regular sandwich bread with a bit of mustard and mayo. Simple, but I look forward to it. Yesterday, I fed the twins their lunches, sat with Ella through her speech therapy after which I proceeded to make my turkey sandwich. As I worked, squeals of delight came from the other room, happy sounds that always make me nervous. I peeked in to discover Ella attempting to straddle the dog like a horse. Kiah looked quite put out, so I extricated my petite Lone Ranger from atop of her furry Silver. Ella said, and I quote, “Awww, man!”

“You could hurt Kiah,” I said. Ella was dubious, but she promised not to ride on the dog, so I went back to my sandwich.

The sandwich was gone, having probably been consumed in two large gulps by the very beast I had just rescued. There was mustard on her whiskers.

There are no words to express my incredible grief, which turned swiftly into anger. I composed myself, gave Kiah the hairy eyeball, and called Ella in from the other room.

“Ella?” I asked, “Do you know what a jockey is?”

Look for us in the circus.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Joy

Tis the time of year to dance around the kitchen to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Happy Song Project

In the car this morning, Ben asked me to put some music on.  He wanted a "happy song."  I asked him to clarify.  He did.

"Don't play that sad music that made you all sleepy last night.  Remember?  You didn't want to get out of the car."

Someone's not a Pink Floyd fan.  That's cool.  I guess Ben doesn't appreciate his mom saying she is going to stay in her warm Grand Caravan forever because she is "comfortably numb."  (Did get out of the car- had to drink a lot of caffeine to wake up again, and no- absolutely no illegal drugs were involved.  I'm a little offended you asked.)

So, this morning I put my Greatest Hits from the 80's CD into the slot and played the happiest song in the whole world (this is not up for debate): Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves. 

It's the perfect Monday morning song. 

Ben started listing other "happy songs," which include "Twist and Shout,"  "I Wanna Hold Your Hand,"  "Crazy Little Thing Called Love,"  and "Jingle Bells."  As he listed his favorites, I had an idea, and blah blah blah:  The Holly Goes Lightly Happy Song Project was born!  On Monday mornings, I will bring my favorite ear candy to the blogosphere.  This accomplishes two things:  1.  It makes sure I publish at least one blog post a week and 2. I can't think of a second thing.  I'm sure there is one, though. 

The rules for "The Happy Song Project" are as follows:

1.  Songs should have either "positive messages," like those After School Specials they showed on TV in the eighties and early nineties, nonsensical fun lyrics, or should just be plain fluffy. 

2.  Songs should not be in a predominantly minor key.  (Exceptions include "Happy Together" by the Turtles and "And I Love Her," by The Beatles.)

3.  "Manic Monday" by The Bangles is disallowed.  So is any song by The Black Eyed Peas.

Requests gladly accepted.

This week's "happy song" was selected in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Enjoy the dulcet tones of Ms. Natalie Merchant.  And happy Monday!

Monday, November 7, 2011

His First Crush

Caleb likes a girl.

I figured this out on my own. I could tell he liked her by the way his eyes changed when he talked about her. They get all furtive and stuff. Caleb and “Alissa” are singing together in a small group for the forthcoming third grade Christmas chorus concert. Unlike some of the other girls in his class, Alissa is well-behaved, never rolls her eyes behind the teacher’s back, and has long hair. These are all important characteristics in a potential girlfriend, according to Caleb.

The best thing about my discovery is that I have been sworn never to discuss Caleb’s secret with John. As Caleb talked animatedly of Alissa’s spectacular solar system diorama, I nodded and smiled and tried not to gush about how cute he is. I promised not to betray his confidence to his tactless father who, and these are Caleb’s words, “will tease me and ask me if I want to smooch her.”

Naturally, I had to share this with all of you.

I told Caleb of my own first crush, which is a heartbreaking tale of unrequited love that lasted from kindergarten through third grade. “Tommy” used to chase me around the school’s courtyard. Once he gave me a purple plastic bracelet because, and I remember his words exactly, “I’m never going to wear this.” Unlike Alissa, Tommy was not well behaved, and spent a lot of time in the corner. The days I was not chased around the courtyard and tackled like a football receiver because Tommy wasn’t allowed to participate in recess were the worst.

We were unfairly separated after the third grade when my family moved from the city to the suburbs.

Caleb: “Did you ever smooch?”

“No. We never smooched.”

“Does Dad know about this?”

I asked Caleb what his intentions were.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I think you’re still a little young to have a girlfriend. It’s fine to like a girl, but it’s probably best just to be friends.”

“What, are you afraid I’m going to marry her or something? Come on, mom. I’m only eight. I still have to go to college. I don’t think they allow F.B.I. agents to even get married. And Alissa wants to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up.”

Of course she does.

I’m left wondering how long Caleb will continue believing that a life in the Federal Bureau of Investigation equals a life of bachelorhood. Because I think I can work with that…

Friday, November 4, 2011

Use Your Words

Before we are born, God allots each of us a certain number of words. Some receive buckets full, while others receive a mere teaspoon of ums, yeses, and no thank yous.

Around the age of one, we begin to let go of our words; once they leave the tangled messes of our minds, they are no longer our own: they belong to the collective world, transformed into reverberating sound waves that travel past the moon into the great, vast void.

I’m the kind of person who fiercely holds on to her words. It’s as if I’m afraid that I’ll use them all up prematurely and become either mute or dead. I don’t want to waste what I’ve been allocated.

When my children speak- and they can really blather on- I encourage verbal expression. As my son’s face gets red and his fists clench, I yell out “Use your words!” lest he begins using his fists instead.

“Use your words!” is a popular phrase among speech therapists and teachers and mothers. What we mean is: “Use your words in a manner that is pleasing to my ears!” When Ben uses his words to say: “I JUST HATE THIS FOOD!” I want to respond with, “That’s not what I meant, buddy. Now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings.”  (Like he would ever actually say, "Mom?  This food's texture is not pleasing to my sensitive palate.  Could you perhaps make me a sandwich of peanut butter and jelly?")

There is a definite tension between what we could say- I’m alluding to those tangled parts of speech buzzing in our brains- and what we actually do say or, in some cases, publicly express via the written word. This is called discretion. My children have no discretion, which I don’t mind unless we’re in a public place and Daniel says, “That lady has a mustache like a man.”

Once, my discretion stifled me. (It took a full year to open up to my husband after we started dating.) I like to think I’ve found a happy balance, though to this day “using my words” sometimes comes across as forced, and I sound… loopy. I’m that loopy, awkward girl who loves words, but can’t seem to make them work for her.

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I compile a list of my favorite words. Effuse. Jejune. Titter. Meander. Scoundrel. Reverence. Platypus. Epitome. Goulash. Opus. Legato. Mellifluous. Quicken. Diaphanous. Swashbuckle. Catharsis. Crinoline. Banana. Chirp. Bauble. Husbandry. Quantum. Rubbish. Terracotta. Bravado. Ink. Polliwog. Vivid. Vapid. Vanquish. Vivacious. Vitriol.

It’s easier to find that balance between could and do when you write words. I like to sit and carefully rifle through the tangled lexis in the mind. There are so many words to choose from.

There are funny words:

“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say "Alka Seltzer," you get a laugh . . . Words with "k" in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny.” Willy from The Sunshine Boys.

Words are beautiful:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

And ugly:

“I like to drink chunky diarrhea. Ha ha ha ha ha!” Daniel Jennings, age 4.


One word: Undulate.

And woven together in such a way that they make your heart hurt:

He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.  From The Velveteen Rabbit, the saddest book ever written.

And in those moments when you can’t put together the poem or prose that captures what you desperately want to express, you can always borrow from someone else. Like I just did above.

The past couple of months have been difficult. There’s this awful juxtaposition between how good my life is and how sad I feel. And this makes me feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, I withdraw- close the curtains, ignore the phone, crawl into the mess of dangling participles and other grammatical disconnects in my mind- and just get through the day- no more, no less.

This, of course, is hard on my children, and (now I get to the point of all of the words that lead up to this saccharine finish) I want to give them this- because maybe, some day, they’ll read it.

Caleb, Ben, Danny, and Ella,

If I had but one more chance to use my words, I would give them all to you, without borrowing from a great poet or philosopher, or waiting until just the right turn-of-phrase comes to tip of my tongue- I would tell you that

I love you.

So much.

And I would say it again and again, shout it from the rooftop, write it in the sky, whisper it in your ears until it became a part of you. Because I could hug you every day and kiss your cheeks and tussle your hair, but you need to hear it- hear these words- because I don’t ever want there to be any doubt. These words belong to you.

I love you.

So much.

And we’re going to be fine.