Happy Birthday to Me (Or Ode to a Favorite Daughter)

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my birthday, and I spent it in the very enjoyable company of my daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is 15 years old. Yep, she’s in those…gasp...teenage years where they are all supposed to be sullen, shutting out their parents or siblings and spending all their time texting on their smartphones, full of teenage angst.

Well, I’m here to tell you that not all teenagers are like that.

I’m quite proud to say that Sarah enjoys my company and likes spending time with me as much as I like spending time with her. We’re weird like that.  I guess it’s because we have so much in common – we always have had.

We share a love of…wait for it…Marvel Comics.  I know. Big shock to those of you who follow this blog.  In fact, I think Sarah loves them more than I do. She knows the backstories of the comics better than I do. She goes for the misunderstood anti-hero more than the hero, like Bucky Barnes (in The Winter Soldier) and Deadpool – I think because it’s the empathy and compassion in her coming out along with the badass side of her. A great combo if you ask me. Then again, Loki’s my favorite so I guess I’m somewhat of a bad influence.

We love going to the movies together and chowing down on popcorn and drinking pop – the whole movie experience. We go every chance we get. Big Hero Six, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, we love them all.

Sarah is smart (as a matter of fact she is extremely smart, she’s college material already — she’ll start dual enrollment next school year), but more than that, and much more importantly, she’s a good person.

Sarah is tolerant of all people. Well, she’s intolerant sometimes, a lot of times actually – she’s intolerant of those who would belittle someone for their looks, their race, their mental capacity, their gender orientation, or things of that nature. She has a very short temper in that regard. She despises stupidity and ignorance and human cruelty and conservative mindsets. Like me, she hates hunting and animal cruelty in all forms.

She hates the abuse of authority by our government and our police when it manifests itself, but having said that, she also respects the ideals behind our government and our police force – what these institutions are supposed to be.

On top of this, she has an amazing sarcastic and witty sense of humor. It usually comes out in her writing. Not sure where she gets that from.

I was thinking of all this today while I was spending time with my daughter.

I thought of all those parents out there – hopefully not as many as I think there are – that don’t want to spend any time with their kids, or worse, want to spend time with their kids but their kids don’t want to spend time with them. (Think Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” – what a sad song that is.)

Do the teenage years have to be so bad and stressful for teens and parents alike?

Can some of this stress be alleviated by finding things in common with your kids from a very young age and maintaining those traditions – playing chess or Scrabble after a sit-down dinner every night, sharing comic books, going to the movies every weekend… talking frankly about the world and its dangers…philosophy, books, and common interests?

Of course I know I’m lucky with Sarah… as a parent I certainly helped in her development but she also has evolved into a good kid on her own!

Have a talk with your kids today, why don’t you? Better yet…buy them a Deadpool or Captain America comic book!

 

My wish for you this Christmas

Many of us will return to our childhood homes to celebrate the holidays or at the very least will be surrounded by aunts, uncles, grandparents, and countless cousins — some of whom we haven’t seen since last Christmas.  I always envision these gatherings as being somewhat reminiscent of the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a disparate group of individuals thrown together through a random gene pool and forced to celebrate holidays for life.

Of course if you’re like many families, you always have to keep a sharp eye out for flare-ups throughout the evening due to in-fighting; made worse by close quarters, chit-chat with other family members, and the old reliable: alcohol. Cousin Elle isn’t speaking to Aunt Ida because of something that happened 20 years ago but no-one quite remembers what happened except it had something to do with a silver set or perhaps a dog or maybe it was a chicken. Uncle Bill, oh good grief, don’t even get him started on the JFK conspiracy because he’ll never shut up (and he gets quite irate at no one in particular so therefore everyone) and you’d think that something like that just wouldn’t come up in conversation but somehow it always does. It’s uncanny really.

Then of course you have Aunt Joan who lets her children do everything (the word no doesn’t seem to be in her vocabulary) and her polar opposite Cousin Bette who doesn’t let her child do anything. Poor Cousin Bette ends up heavy sighing a lot (very melodramatically I might add) as Aunt Joan’s children run mad circles around the house in full-on manic mode. I have to give Bette credit though, the “Sweetie, you shouldn’t do that,” she uses to correct Joan’s children as they’re climbing the bookcase is a lot nicer than the admonishment that would be falling off the tip of my tongue.

Uncle Larry? Well, he knows everything, so if you want to know something just ask. Or don’t. He’ll probably tell you anyway. Really loudly. More than once. He likes to repeat things. In case you didn’t get it the first time.

Ahhh…family. Just because you’re family doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to get along. I think in some respects family can drive us crazier than anyone else. They’re talented like that. Especially during the holidays.

So.  Here’s hoping we all survive our holiday get-togethers with our families….or at the very least let there be copious amounts of alcohol to help us through with a sense of humor.  Or bail money. That’ll work too.

I swear…

Have you seen the prices of movies these days? I mean, have you seen them?  I suppose there are some places in the country where you can get into a matinee pretty inexpensively…but where I live that is not the case.  A matinee ticket costs $10.  A matinee!

That doesn’t sound expensive to you? Well, factor in the cost of a drink and some buttered popcorn – must haves for the movie-going experience with your daughter, let’s say, and all of a sudden you’re spending more than the GDP of many small countries.

In 2015 and 2016 there are a ton of movies coming out – especially Marvel Comic movies which happen to be our personal favorites – like another Avengers, Ant Man, Doctor Strange, and another Captain America….not to mention Deadpool (YAY!!), Woman in Black 2, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jurassic World, Suicide Squad, and X-Men Apocalypse. The list just goes on and on.

I want to see them all, but I’m shuddering at the cost and 2015 isn’t even here yet!

Last night, my kids and I were sitting around talking about such things as the Marvel Universe and trying to figure out a way for us to afford to go to all of these movies.  We had what seemed like a brilliant idea – we’d start a slush fund of some sort so we’d have money saved up for when the movies came out.

But just how would we fund this slush fund?

We adjourned and went our separate ways promising to think about it… as I was leaving the room my eye caught sight of a cat in a precarious position in a spot where it knew damn well it didn’t belong. Without thinking (as so often happens), I let loose a loud verbal assault on said cat that included a few choice unprintable words (my mother reads this blog after all).

And a somewhat sarcastic, somewhat serious light bulb went off above my head.

“A ha!” I said. “How about a Swear Jar? Every time one of us swears, a dollar goes into the Swear Jar. By the time Avengers Age of Ultron is released, we’ll have a tidy sum.”

I have to admit that the language in our house is less than nice and sometimes…just sometimes…sounds like a sailor’s convention (if there ever were such things).

Of course my kids laughed but they too immediately saw the pure genius behind this plan, because, after all, they do live here and therefore know that if walls could talk…well…ours would definitely be censored.

Our celebration over this clever fundraising idea was short lived however once reality reared its ugly head.  I mean, let’s face it, when all is said and done, given the frequency with which we’d be paying, we’d just end up having to borrow money from the swear jar to pay the swear jar.

Needless to say, we’re working on a new plan.

Christmas Nerds

So this Christmas is going to be a somewhat lean one for my kids and me – and that’s okay. It’s not something we can’t work through. As we were talking about gift giving for the upcoming holiday, we decided that we’d choose presents we could sort of give to ‘each other’ to share – communal presents as it were, within a certain cost range.

Rather than purchase several gifts for each of us individually, we would choose a special gift that my son and I would give each other to share that would benefit the “whole” and, likewise, a gift that my daughter and I would give each other that would benefit the “whole.” You get the idea.

Anyway.

The choice of presents was theirs and theirs alone…I left that up to them and figured I would be content with whatever they decided. I just wanted them to be happy. They could’ve chosen anything. Here’s what they came up with. Needless to say, they did my geeky little heart proud. Our mutual love for Marvel Comics and Doctor Who runs deep. I love, love, love my Christmas nerds!

Sarah's Choice (to add to our Marvel collection)

Sarah’s Choice (to add to our Marvel collection)

Jake's Choice (we're all Whovians in this house)

Jake’s Choice (we’re all Whovians in this house)

Moving Daze

No one has ever accused me of being a hoarder. Let’s just get that out of the way right off the bat. I’m not going to be the subject of a docudrama airing on A&E that chronicles my struggles with throwing out a three-foot thick (and growing!) bundle of used chopped sticks or mountain of “recycled” dryer sheets I need a step-ladder to reach the top of. Definitely I am no hoarder. I can navigate through all the rooms in my house with ease instead of shimmying through a narrow path I’ve cut out through stacks of old TV Guides and flattened cereal boxes.

Am I a pack rat? A stronger case could be made for this classification, I’m sorry to say. I came to this shameful realization just recently when I had to box up everything I own and move into a new place.  I guess the time has flown by since the last time I had to do this because it was pretty close to being utter hell. The entire process of moving is fraught with stress. Having too much stuff but too few boxes was a source of constant concern during the whole thing. It got so bad I was reduced to scrounging for empty boxes from grocery stores.  Now half my stuff smells like Aisle 5 of the local Acme.

Once I did have enough boxes the next obstacle was transporting them. Sounds simple. You load the box, you carry it to the car, you drive to the new place, you carry it inside, you unload it. Easy peasy, right? It would be except that it slipped my mind that boxes have these pesky things called “weight limits.” I loaded many of them up well past their limit without knowing it. The heavy boxes filled with books inevitably ended up falling apart half way between the truck to the house leaving all my precious novels scattered on the pavement and me in need of yet another box to re-pack them into. Okay, well, several boxes.

On top of my admitted clutter problem (I promise to seek help for it one day) and my inability to consider the tensile strength of cardboard, I also have a looming procrastination condition that leaves me constantly at war with myself. I had these aspirations floating around in my head that when I’d be moving I’d be neat and orderly and well-coordinated.  All the boxes would be clearly labeled and stacked together in neat piles just like how the Brady Bunch would do it. It’s a pity to confess that what actually happened ended up looking more like a moving job performed by The Clampetts on their way to Beverly Hills. All my earthly treasures were thrust together without rhyme or reason, tied down with a coarse rope, and rattling around during the whole ride as I hoped whatever I heard just break wasn’t something too important.

But in the end, the job got done. Now I’m not saying it was the prettiest or the most efficient or, hell, even the most sane, but all my stuff made it from Point A to Point B. That’s all that matters.

Now onward to the unpacking!

Gone too Soon

Knowing what we know about owning a pet, why do we own them? We form these intense attachments, give them our all—fall in love even—all the while knowing that they will leave us much sooner than we would like them to. Much sooner. Dogs…we’re lucky if we get 15 years out of them. Cats, a little less. Of course if you own a turtle or a snake you’ll get a bit more mileage out of them, but I’m mainly talking about the snuggly, furry critters we curl up with on the couch and in bed; the cuddly creatures that lick our noses and nuzzle into our warm bodies with all the fervor they can muster.

They give us everything we want out of a companion, how could we not swoon head over heels for them!? For true dog lovers (yes, I’m going to focus on dogs for the rest of the entry), our pets become a part of the family. In turn the dogs love us unconditionally. They’re not edging for an advantage. They don’t have ulterior motives (except maybe a scrap of food from the dinner table). Their love is pure, untarnished, and genuine.

There’s an old joke I like to think about. It goes: lock your significant other and your dog in the trunk of a car, come back in an hour, and see which one is happy to see you. It’s true. The dog would be ecstatic! They’re happy to see you no matter what. You could be gone for a week on a trip to Fiji or just run out to the mailbox. It doesn’t matter. You walk through that front door and the dog’s happiness level is going to be maxed out.

They share in our joys, our failures, our celebrations, our breakups, our new jobs, our firings, our new babies, our mourning, our happiness, the excitement of holidays, and the mediocrity of our stale, humdrum weekdays. They’re not even put off when we’re sick in bed, sniffling and moody with red noses and sweaty palms…instead they snuggle right there with us and keep us company when no one else will.

Even just a simple walk around the block or a car ride to the grocery store elicits their sheer joy and how is that not infectious!? When we’re at our best they’re there to keep us up. More importantly, when we’re at our worst they pull us up.  Sometimes a dog is what helps us get us through the most depressing times in our life. Sometimes they’re the only thing.

Another benefit that fellow humans don’t offer us? The silence. We can divulge our darkest secrets, confess our most embarrassing thoughts and they’re kept in the doggy vault. The pressure comes off our chest, absorbed by the dog, and transformed into unfiltered acceptance. What a perfect system! They don’t care whether we act silly, if we can or can’t dance, if we sing off-key or not. Hell they’ll act silly with us!

Then, they’re gone. No amount of love or strength of resolve can fight Father Time. When they leave they take a piece of our heart with them. Why can’t they stay longer? The answer, I know, is basic biology. Their life span is what they’re given and we can’t change that.

But the next question is, knowing that this heartbreak is inevitable, that the loss is sooner in our future than we would like, why do we do it? Our hearts are smashed to pieces by the passing of this four-legged creature, but what do we do?

Shortly thereafter (or maybe even immediately after) we seek to ease the sadness, to fill the void, so we find another four-legged love-bug to give ourselves to. We sign up for the process all over again. Get a new best friend, go through all the ups and downs that come with having the perfect partner in crime, and then experience the same sadness all over again. We open our hearts to these pawed angels only to almost destroy ourselves with their love and their leaving.

Why?  Because that bond, that unconditional love (that goes both ways), is worth it.  It is sooo worth it. If it wasn’t worth it, if it wasn’t love, well then it wouldn’t hurt so badly, would it?