I Should Have Been Assigned To The Ring Toss….

Yesterday was field day at my son’s pre-school and I volunteered to help out.  When I arrived and asked where I could make myself useful, his teacher looked at me with pleading eyes and asked if I would take the face painting assignment.

“Um, sure” I said, hoping my hesitation would imply that I really did not want to be in charge of face painting.  It didn’t.

She handed me a few boxes of face paint and another few boxes of hypoallergenic face paint that had been provided by the parents of children with allergies.  She also handed me a list of the children who had parental permission for face painting; those with allergies were highlighted for my reference.

I sat down on a tiny chair that essentially made me feel as though I was holding a supported malasana (squat) pose and began to prepare my station.  Upon opening the first box of face paint, I was relieved to find that there were stencils included.  Ok, cool, I thought.  I could do these, no problem!  Hell, I could even free hand one of these rainbows or smiley face designs.  I’ve got this!

I like to believe I possess some artistic ability.  I like to decorate, refinish and paint old furniture and I love a good DIY project, but I’m not an artist in the sense that I can draw or paint….anything.  In fact, I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.  I wish I could and I’ve tried, but I’m too much of a perfectionist.  This is why the thought of having to paint the cherubic faces of a bunch of excited and wiggly pre-schoolers gave me such pause.  But with a guide?  Well, I could definitely manage with a guide.

With renewed confidence, I welcomed my first customer of the day.  So, what are we doing today?” I asked a little boy with a drippy nose and the remnants of a snack in the corner of his mouth, as I gestured toward the stencils I’d lined up for choosing.

Boy:  I want to be a jaglion

Me:  A what?

Boy:  A jaglion!

Me:  Um, what’s a jaglion?  Is that like a liger?  (Napoleon Dynamite reference he totally didn’t get.)

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Boy:  No.  It’s a jaglion.  You know, a jaglion.  It’s part jaguar, part lion.

Me:  (blank stare)

Boy:  It lives in Africa, it’s magical, it runs 2,000 mph.  A jaglion!

Me:  (picking up a stencil)  How about a bat?

He wasn’t accepting some shitty generic bat when he wanted a jaglion.

Boy:  Ask Siri, she’ll show you a picture.

Me:  Um, why don’t you just tell me what it looks like.

I did my best.  After painting his entire face orange, then outlining it in black and adding red stripes and some whiskers, I sent him on his way, but not before using a small mirror to show him what the outcome looked like.  He told me he looked exactly like a jaglion.

For the next three hours, I proceeded to paint a number of butterflies, princesses, Batmen and Spidermen, blue cats and pink dogs, a snake with fangs and scales, a fox, a tin man, a Pokemon character and a glittery koala.  Exactly none of them were a stencil, no matter how hard I tried to sell them on the idea.  Not even my own kid, Snugs, gave me a break when he sat down and requested to be a cardinal.

Me:  Snugs, look at all these choices.  What do you think?

Snugs:  I fink I want to be a cardinal.

Me:  The bird?

Snugs:  Yes

Me:  Are you sure you don’t want to be one of these?  Like the bat, I could paint it red and we could pretend it’s a cardinal.

Snugs:  No, I want to be a cardinal.

Sigh….

My artwork throughout the day was not impressive.  But after every sitting, I would show the kids their reflection, bracing myself for disappointment and maybe even tears, but every time, they would say something like, “Yes, I look exactly like a blue fox with a top hat.”

One little girl, who asked to be a pink and purple zebra, looked at her reflection and said, “Wow, it looks so pretty.  You’re a real artist.”

I had to stop myself from correcting her.  In her eyes, it was art and she thought it was wonderful.  Why should I ruin that?  Then, it struck me how beautiful the world must look to little one’s and how sad it is that we lose that gift so soon.

Then, I told them all my name was Karen.  Because I’m betting when their parents picked them up from school and especially when they had to try and scrub away the layers of paint that morphed their children into some sad version of modern art, they din’t think it was so beautiful.  It’s a safe bet.  I was cursing Karen too.

PS:  I Googled “Jaglion” when I got home.  It’s a real thing.  A jaglion or jaguon is the offspring between a male jaguar and a female lion.

That is pretty magical.

Happy Mother’s Day….

Until I actually became a mother, my relationship with Mother’s Day was a complicated one.  My parents divorced when I was very young and in the years that followed, my dad felt no obligation to ensure my brother and I had something to give to our mother for the holiday.

My parents had a terrible marriage and an even worse divorce, so its possible this was an intended malicious act on his part, or it may have been something he didn’t realize he was supposed to do.  Regardless, the slight wasn’t lost on my mother.

It wasn’t that my brother and I had nothing to present to her.  There was always a school created craft.  Also, as we got a little older, my brother and I used to pay special attention to the neighborhood curbside trash and yard sales for treasures we thought she might like.  We brought home things like second-hand wallets, old bottles of perfume and umbrella’s.  Sometimes, we’d scrape-up enough loose change and walk to the Hallmark store in town to pick out a small magnet or a mini-figurine.

Sometimes, we would pick flowers from garden beds throughout town and attempt to fashion a bouquet.  We also made her breakfast in bed, which usually consisted of a loaf of soggy french toast, cereal, pop-tarts and whatever beverage was on-hand.

If my mother ever appreciated our efforts, it was lost in her anger at my father for his failure to help us purchase more suitable gifts.  She would rant and rave, call him and leave screeching messages on his answering machine and grill my brother and I about what he’d purchased for our step-mother.  She would cry and tell us how badly her feelings had been hurt, how sad she felt at not having anything to open, how hard she worked and how she deserved more.  The day would be lost to her disappointment.

The weight of it all was not something we should have been expected to help carry.  We were just little kids.  But, carry it we did.  Every approaching holiday would leave me feeling crippled with dread and anxiety.  I worried endlessly about how we were going to be able to provide my mother with enough to make her happy.

As I got older and eventually began earning money of my own, it became easier to get through these events, but I would still spend weeks worrying that I hadn’t gotten enough, or the exact right thing.  I also knew that no matter what, my mother would want to compare it to whatever had been purchased for my step-mother.

When I reached adulthood, Mother’s Day began to take on a feeling of dreaded obligation, rather than a feeling of joy at celebrating the woman who had given birth to me.  When my relationship with my mother came to a final end, I was relieved not to have to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations.  It became just another day.

When I became a step-mother, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about Mother’s Day.  In the beginning, it continued to feel like just another day.  I felt no maternal stirrings for my step-children, so I had no emotional connection to Mother’s Day.  I was not their mother.  I’m still not their mother, but I am something.

Being a step-parent is the most complex and complicated relationship I’ve ever been a part of.  I know that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but in my case, the biological mother of my step-children pretty much hates me.  Though we’ve not once had a single conversation in the nearly 10 years I’ve been around and though I had nothing to do with the demise of her marriage, I seem to be symbolic of something she can’t handle.  As for what that might be, I can only speculate.

When I embarked on the journey of step-parenting, I was without great expectations.  I knew we wouldn’t love each other right away.  I expected there would be feelings of jealousy and resentment on their part and mine.  I knew there would be loyalty conflicts and lines drawn and hurt feelings.  I didn’t push.

When the kids were with us, I gave them plenty of room to spend time with their father without my being present.  I didn’t force affection or attempt to intrude on certain routines without an invitation from one of the kids.

I didn’t attempt to discipline or direct them.  I wasn’t a playmate or a counterpart, but I also didn’t cast myself in the light of a parental figure either.  I was just there.  I didn’t want to be their mother, any more than they wanted to be my children, but I did want them to feel happy and safe when they were with us.

I let them get to know me and I got to know them.  When their mother’s negative commentary seeped into our household, I refused to become what I knew she wanted me to be.  Overtime, I think the kids slowly began to see the motives behind what they were hearing versus what they were seeing.  Not that this caused them to love their mother any less and like me any more, but I think they began to form their own opinions and to open themselves up to a growing relationship with me.

I like to think I’ve been a positive influence.  When I first met the kids, they were often paralyzed by any new experience, whether it be trying a new food, visiting a new place, or trying a new activity.  It seemed they believed the world was fraught with danger.

Little by little, I worked to crack that shell.  I took them rock climbing and hiking and camping while patiently and continually reassuring them that they would, in fact, not plummet to the earth and die, get lost and starve, be kidnapped and eaten by hillbillies and/or obtain some type of biological disease carried by random woodland creatures.

I introduced new foods, my dad taught them to fish, I sought out fun and interesting places to visit, coaxed them onto their first plane ride, taught them to golf and finally, this past year, I took them skiing for their first time.  My step-son is now obsessed, but my step-daughter is still afraid that she will crash, head first into a tree….on the treeless bunny slopes.  We’re working on it.

But still, I’ve often said that if my step-children grow-up and do amazing things, some will say it happened despite my presence in their lives.  If they grow-up and become serial killers, it will be all my fault.

As the years have passed and our relationships with one another have continued to evolve and seek definition, I’ve continued to have no expectations of recognition on Mother’s Day.  In part, I’m sure it’s to save myself from hurt feelings, but at the same time, I know I am not their mother and if the day holds an exclusive meaning for them, I would never seek to intrude.

With that being said, I’ve not gone without it.  At some point, they began getting me a card and a small gift.  The card typically has the word “Step” written by one of them in front of the word “Mom” anywhere it’s printed on the card.  I’ve never viewed it as a negative, only as a boundary.  I am their step-mom.  It’s not the same as being their mom.  I like the distinction.

My husband has always insisted he has not influenced the kids to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day, but I’ve always suspected he may have planted the seed.  However, one year, when my step-son was ten, he presented me with a school craft he’d made.  It was a long piece of construction paper that included a picture of himself holding a giant sunflower.  Underneath the photo, it said, “Happy Mother’s Day” and printed below was a list of things he loved about me.

I’m not a particularly emotional person, but when he gave it to me, I’ll admit that I thought my heart might burst.  I thanked him and told him it was the best gift I’d ever been given and I meant it.  Later, I took it to my room and cried.  Then I framed it and hung it.

Then, I became a mom in the traditional sense of the word.  All this week, I’ve been reading the various editorials written about the mom’s out there.  The harried and frazzled, the mother’s who have lost children, the women who have lost their mother’s, the foster and adoptive mom’s and the all the other women who stepped in and took on the role of a mother when they were needed most.  I’ve laughed, sympathized, felt sad, but mostly, I’ve felt grateful.

I still don’t want or expect grandiose gestures for Mother’s Day.  I’m definitely on board with the mom’s who say, “For the love of God, please do not take me to brunch!” though. Other than that, I just want to enjoy a quiet, simple day with my little family.

I hope all you moms out there get what you need this Mother’s Day too.

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I’m the Bad Person Congressman Mo Brooks Warned You About….

Those of you who know me and/or have followed my blog for some time now, will know  that in the second trimester of my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was shocked.  A feeling I previously assumed would come as no surprise to anyone who heard my story….that is until I recently learned certain members of the US government believe I earned cancer via my own transgressions.

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Since we all know any old Oompa Loompa can assume our nations highest position of power, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the stupidity and ignorance in Washington runs exceedingly deep.  Let’s face it people, this country of ours isn’t exactly being piloted by the world’s brightest minds….Merriam Webster recently felt compelled to correct the president’s grammar and wasn’t one of The Three Stooges named Mo?

Anyway, if you haven’t already seen, heard or read it, here’s what Mo had to say during a recent segment on CNN:

“My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all of these costs thereby reducing the costs to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy. They’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy, and right now, those are the people who have done things the right way, who are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

“Now, in fairness, a lot of those people with pre-existing conditions have those conditions through no fault of their own, and I think our society, under those circumstances, needs to help. The challenge though is that it’s a tough balancing act.”

Dear Mo:

I’d like to know exactly what qualifies you as a medical expert?  Did Trump University offer a crash course on medicine at some point?

Let me tell you a bit about my situation.  I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2011.  I was the first and only member of my family to have been diagnosed with the disease.

You know what causes lymphoma, Mo?  Being born a fucking human.  Yep.  That’s about it.

Like most cancers, medical researchers don’t know what causes lymphoma, but they have been able to identify certain risk factors.  Among them:

Ethnicity and Location – In the US, white Americans are more likely to be diagnosed than any other race and the disease is more common in developed nations of the world.

So….I’m to blame for my race and country of origin?

Mo, you were a lawyer.  Tell me, can I sue my parents for this?  How about my ancestors?  Maybe I could sue God.  After all, he chose to make me and he chose to make me a human rather than, say, a goat.

Or perhaps you’ll next suggest that God was punishing people like me for all the bad things we’ve done in life by giving us cancer, cerebral palsy, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, etc., etc., etc., and so the Federal Government is just doing God’s will.

And you know what?  It wouldn’t surprise me if you did.

So, full disclosure Mo.  Here are the worst things I’ve done in my life:

  1.  I’ve occasionally used the handicap stall in a public restroom and I am not handicap.  In my defense, I’ve never leap frogged over a wheel chair bound patron in order to claim it.  I just like the leg room and so I choose it when the restroom isn’t full.
  2. In the fifth grade, I had a teacher who was really mean to me, because my mother was a horrible pain in the ass who wasn’t happy unless she was making someone else miserable (interestingly enough, she’s never had cancer, which seems really unfair to me, but I digress).  My teacher, Mrs. K, used to make me leave the classroom in the middle of our lessons on a regular basis in order to fetch her glasses of water from the water fountain.  I once filled it from a toilet bowl.
  3. In the 9th grade, I attempted to steal a pink, plastic ring from the junior’s section at Kohls.  The ring cost maybe $5.00 and I had the money to pay for it, but the rest of my friends were testing those waters, so I jumped in too.  We all got caught and my mother pretty much beat me senseless, so I like to believe that one has been both paid for and forgiven.
  4. I used to regularly flip off my mom behind her back.  She totally deserved it though.
  5. I’ve received a total of five speeding tickets in my 21 years of driving.

Tell me Mo, which of these do you think pushed the big guy over the edge?

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Let’s see then, what else has been linked to lymphoma?

Chemicals and Radiation – Some chemicals used in agriculture have been linked, as has nuclear radiation exposure.

As Ace Ventura would say:

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Sounds to me like there is a real possibility I got lymphoma because the government failed to mandate restrictions that would prevent harmful chemicals from being used in agriculture.

I’ll admit, I might have a bit of culpability here….it’s possible I may have forgotten to wash off an apple or two over the years….but the liability really started a little bit closer to Washington….if you ask me Congressman.

And Mo, while I appreciate your sad attempt at backtracking when you said, “Now, in fairness, a lot of those people with pre-existing conditions have those conditions through no fault of their own, and I think our society, under those circumstances, needs to help. The challenge though is that it’s a tough balancing act.”

I’m curious to know who will be charged with striking that balance?  You and your cronies?  Sorry, but that makes me feel, well, vomit-like.

Perhaps….and it wouldn’t surprise me….your solution is to say, “Well, fuck all y’all!  Sucks to be you.”

To me, that sounds a bit like you’re suggesting we need to adopt a Hunger Games style of government.  One where the financially and physically fittest survive.  That’s nice.

Here’s the thing Mo….I’m not looking for a handout or a free ride of any kind.  I’d simply like a fair shot at a long and healthy life and I’m going to need access to proper and affordable medical care in order to do that.

I’ll admit I’m among the more fortunate.  I’m college educated and financially stable, but my resources are no match for cancer treatment and that’s true for the majority of families you people are supposed to be representing.

Excuse my naivety, Mo, but how about you geniuses put your head’s together and take into consideration the role that corporate greed has played in the driving up of costs….or are you all afraid to piss off your friends?

How about you think about the exorbitant amount of waste associated with frivolous law suits that drive up malpractice coverage for medical professionals and hospitals, which then drive up the costs for patients?

Or, maybe you could tackle the probable impact that pollution and other environmental abuses have had on our health.  But again, who wants to piss off their friends?

At the end of the day, Mo….I think the “bad” people you were talking about….are people like you.  I’m not a saint, but I will always be the type of person willing to pay a little more if it means that my fellow human beings have the same chance at a healthy life….because that’s what decent human beings do.

When Donald Trump rallied all you moron’s under the banner of “Make America Great Again,” what he actually meant was, “Make America Great Again For the People Who Matter.”

Sounds familiar.  Hitler didn’t care too much for the sick, or the elderly either.

And when Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” what he meant was, let’s drain it in order to make room for my own swamp monsters…. and that would be people like you, Mo.  But you know, I still have faith that this country will someday live up to the values I believe were intended….and I’m confidant it won’t be because of people like you.

Best,
James

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