Karma delayed is still a…well, you know

So. My computer died. Some awesome tech gods are valiantly attempting to piece together the burned-out technology that was my hard drive and salvage the data I so blithely left lying about without a backup. Meanwhile, using my handy-dandy phone, I will leave you all with the below thoughts.

A neighbor child of about 5 years of age, for some reason only known to the Gods that be, has come into possession of a shrill, ear-piercing, toy of destruction known as a whistle. Not just any whistle mind you, but rather a whistle that seeks out an adult person’s last nerve and gleefully wreaks havoc on the few tattered shreds of sanity that remain intact, albeit not intact for long. I suppose this is karma. A bit delayed, but karma nonetheless.

You see, back in the day, oh many, many years ago, I gave my then very young nephew a set of drums for Christmas. When my kids came along, I was thankfully never repaid in kind by my brother. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he forgot,  perhaps, being an experienced parent by that time, he had sympathy, or perhaps the drums never made it to their house after all and thus my attempts at being the mean sister “cool aunt” were all for naught. Whatever the case may be, I don’t recall my son or daughter ever receiving similar noise-makers to test my patience.

Now, after my kids are grown and the only noise coming from our house is the unpredictable, staccato bark of an anxiety-ridden dog protecting our hearth and home from that rogue leaf blowing across the yard, this child…this neighbor child…comes home with an amazing, mind-shatteringly loud whistle. Just in time for nice weather and open windows. It’s a curse. I just know it. Right when I assumed I was home-free, my brother’s been dabbling in voodoo, black magic, or the like.

And all I can say is: well played brother, well played indeed.

Every Day Parenting

Actually from the time when they were still quite young, my go-to phrase would be “Do you need an ambulance?  Do we need to go to the hospital?”  And if the answer was (or is) no, well then, we’d just get on with the rest of our day. Oh you may think I have a lackadaisical approach to parenting, but I don’t really. I love my children more than life itself and would do anything for them. It’s just…well…I know my children you see.  While my kids are seven years apart in age, they are still, in many ways, very much like my brother and me growing up, thanks in large part to my mother’s well-timed curse.  And I’m determined to get out of this parenting gig alive – preferably with my sanity intact (what’s left of it anyway).

 

parenting style

Riding in Cars

The other week my mom and I were discussing one of the more volatile controversies that continually divides this country. Yes, I’m talking about two-door vs. four-door cars. Who cares how we got on the subject? The question brought before the panel (me, I’m the panel) was why is insurance higher for two-door cars. Before I know it I’m explaining to her that insurance rates are lower for people who own four-door cars because the insurance companies tend to think that the people who own them are more family oriented, less inclined to take risks (like drag racing with friends, taking dares on the number of donuts they can do in parking lots, or driving every day like they’re the getaway car from a massive bank robbery and the entire Sheriff’s office is on their tail), and overall just safer. Two-door car owners are more reckless, at least in the insurance company’s eyes, and, hence, more likely to get into an accident, so they get the higher premium.

My Mom interjected that despite the higher priced premium, she always insisted that our family have a two-door car when my brother and I were growing up. I will take a small detour here (ha! pun intended!) to say that you could not find a more stable, down-to-earth, no-risk-taker, family oriented kind of gal than my mother. But the inflated premium was worth it to her, or so she said.

I personally couldn’t understand why she opted for the two-door car. It seems so logical to me to upgrade to four doors when there are kids involved. I mean, it’s easier to get them in and out of the back seat in general, easier to buckle them into the car seats when they’re small, and we didn’t have to deal with that awkward climb into and out of the car over the folded down seat (with elbows to the head of whoever is in the front seat). It just seemed practical.

Then my mom explained her point of view. First of all, car seat? Ha! Not part of the equation back in those days. Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Second, only having two doors meant that there was no chance my brother and I could throw each other out of the car. Third, having only two doors meant we couldn’t carry through any brilliant ideas of jumping out of the car ourselves. That reasons 2 and 3 were likely scenarios to pop up in my mother’s head sort of sums up my childhood.

Looking back, I can easily envision both of those hilarious tragic events happening if we had the luxury of back seat doors. My brother and I were basically a live-action version of Spy vs. Spy. Take our constant battling, stuff it in a confined metal cage for a few hours, hurl it down a highway at 60 miles per hour, and one way or another one of us would find a reason to pop open that back door to show the other one the exit. Unfortunately, I mean, luckily, yes, luckily, my mom could imagine this too and preemptively put an end to that.

Each summer my father, with the whole family in tow, would navigate over the precarious road that led to my grandparents’ house. Well, this road, barely wide enough for a vehicle, ran snugly along the tall mountain on one side and on the other side was nothing but air. I’ve brought this up before…how my brother and I tried to drive my mother insane by jumping up and down on one side of the car trying to make it flip over the edge. If we had a four-door car for these treks! Oh my goodness how things would’ve changed!

I can see my brother now, swinging from the car door, legs dangling wildly in mid-air, hanging on for dear life. My parents would look back and wonder: did he jump out thinking he could fly? Did he think he could hop from the car onto the branch of a passing tree? Then, they’d look over to the other side of the back seat, where little ol’ Wendy—with her angelic doe eyes and impossibly cute grin—is sitting peaceful as a fawn, and they’d wonder to this day if something more menacing had happened to send my brother flapping in the breeze. I mean, really…who’s to say? Knowing us, it could’ve gone either way. Either scenario is equally plausible, but thankfully no one will ever know.

All because my mother had the supreme forethought to buy a two-door car.  You’d think the insurance company would’ve given her a discount for her smart car choices given the money she surely saved them, but no. I guarantee you though, had they known her little bundles of joy, they would have.

My Mom Can Beat Up Your Mom

You think your Mom is great? I’m sure she’s a lovely woman, but I hate to break it to you – my Mom deserves the Mother of the World award. Hands down. Don’t believe me? Need proof? Well, for starters, she’s still sane.  No small feat given the fact she had to deal with my brother and me.

If you’ve been to this blog before, you’ve probably caught some of the questionably shameful entries about the terrors my brother and I would inflict on each other and the world around us. But they were just the tip of the iceberg in our quest to break our mother’s sanity.  We really tested the ‘kids will be kids’ adage on a daily basis. In our case ‘kids will be evil little, unpredictable, heart attack-inducing devils.’

I’ve been reflecting over our childhood as Mother’s Day has been looming and thought of some more examples of the things we did that, now as a parent, have me shaking my head and wondering how my Mom was able to keep it together.

For instance, on one of our many trips to visit our grandparents in West Virginia, my brother decided one day to just wander off. That might not be so bad except he was only about three years old at the time. A group of cousins were supposed to be watching him and apparently they didn’t take their job seriously. The consensus was, he followed the family dog, Coco, down the shale-covered road past my Grandparents’ barn and off into the woods.  And just like that, poof, he was gone. Swallowed up by the fields.  I know, I know. Sounds like the start of a not too great-ending fairy tale.

Of course everyone went on a mad search, looking for him. Another set of cousins, twins, who were probably 6 years old at the time, were the evil entities in this horror story…every horror story needs at least one, right? As everyone searched, they kept following my mother around calming whispering truly evil nothings into her ear. Things every mother longs to hear in a situation of this sort, things like: “he’s gone,” “yep, he’s never coming back,” “we’ll never see him again I bet,” “oh, he’s long gone by now.

My brother eventually came back. Coco the dog, who, through it all turned out to be a better babysitter than the older cousins, had decided to return home, and my brother, who was still in hot pursuit, followed along. I can only imagine the roller-coaster of emotions my mother went through on that day. From her desire to kill the naysayer twins who were following her around planting seeds of doom to the wave of relief that swept over her when her little boy returned both mixed with her internal criticism of how she would never let him leave the house ever again. I bet she wanted to laugh, cry, yell, and jump all at the same time. Speaking as a mother myself, I know I’d probably lose it once it was all said and done. And maybe she did, but she recovered because she lived to deal with a hell of a lot more shit from us.

Not to be topped by my brother’s little disappearing act, I decided my next escapade needed to involve more gore. So when I was about 5 years old, I ran through a glass storm door and sliced open the major artery in my wrist…quite deeply. I didn’t want to of course. It was my cousins’ fault. Our storm door never latched on its own. We never had to actually touch the doorknob to go through the door, just push on the door and it would swing open. I was pretty used to doing this when I wanted to go outside. It was like this since forever. Can you see where this story is going already?

When my cousins were over for a visit, someone (I blame them although it could’ve been my aunt or uncle as well) pulled the door shut so it latched firmly. Damn their conscientious souls. Sure enough, later that day I was running out of the house at top speed, expecting to simply push the door open in mid-flight. Instead of the door flinging open, it held fast and I ended up running right through it. Chaos, predictably, ensued. I was rushed to the local firehouse (which would’ve been cool had I not been spurting blood everywhere) and then to the hospital.  It was pretty bad. I still have a serious scar and some damage.

Of course I didn’t have any concept then, but being a parent now, I can well imagine my mother’s fear and anxiety as her daughter lay splayed out on the porch, bleeding out, and then later listening as the doctors’ explained the damage. And miraculously, her sanity held.

I could go on and on – for instance, I could tell you about the night my paternal grandparents’ house caught on fire when my brother and I were little. Oh, but that wasn’t the highlight of the evening.  The highlight of the evening was that while my parents were gone to help, my brother and I were left with my maternal grandparents – and during a round of roughhousing, my brother promptly fell (with no assistance from me, mind you) down the steep wooden stairs of their old farmhouse. Now, right smack at the bottom of the stairs was a cabinet, against which his head made a satisfying thump as he landed. Can you imagine coming home from the chaos of such a crisis only to be faced with a son who might have a concussion? Yep. That was my mother’s life.

Sadly for her, our foibles also spilled out into the public domain. Now, we never engaged in any active warfare in public (Mom wouldn’t have allowed it) and we never went missing while chasing after errant dogs or collided with clothes poles or fought with storm doors while out and about in the world, but we did offer up other embarrassments for her. We were glad to do it. It was sort of our ‎forté.

On payday, we’d go out to eat as a family – it was my mother’s futile attempt to show people that we were functional members of society (or maybe it was just the one time she was able to take a break), but rarely did my brother and I cooperate. There was the infamous mushroom incident of course. But in addition to that, there was one time when I was very young – before I realized the ways of the birds and the bees and how women’s bodies worked – that I discovered the “napkin dispenser” in the ladies room of one particular restaurant we used to frequent. I don’t see them much anymore, but back in the day these were a regular thing. Well, at this restaurant they were ripping women off by charging 10 cents per “napkin.” Can you imagine!? Something usually set out on the table for free, women had to pay for in the ladies room of this snooty place! My little 6-year-old self was outraged!

Well, back at the table, my parents were discussing the prices on the menu and me, who didn’t have a quiet bone in my body when I was little, shouted out indignantly, “Yeah, well, that’s NOTHING!  In the women’s room, they charge 10 cents for NAPKINS!!” The whole restaurant heard me. I bet the whole block heard me. I can only imagine my mother’s dismay and desire to suddenly become invisible.

Pretty audacious, I know, but my brother always had a flair for the dramatic and he did trump me on that story. In another restaurant there was a jukebox that made a rat-tat-tat noise when it switched records. One night, we’re all sitting in a booth enjoying our dinner out and minding our business. The place was quiet. You know how that happens? When there’s that one instance of total silence amongst a crowd? Well, in this one moment of silence, the jukebox just happened to switch songs and made its usual rat-tat-tat sound when out of nowhere my brother clutches his chest and screams “ACCKKK! You GOT me!!” in his best gangster voice. He slammed back against the booth as if he’d been shot and then slowly slid down the seat in his rattling death throes to the floor. Dinner AND a show ladies and gentlemen!  It was quite impressive. I’m not sure my mother appreciated his talent, but that’s probably because she had all the drama she could take from us at home.

My mother raised us well and she tried to keep us safe, from ourselves and from each other. We just weren’t very cooperative. And quite frankly, it’s a wonder my brother and I weren’t ever put up for adoption by a mother whose nerves just couldn’t take anymore. THAT is worthy of an award and I can think of none better than Best Mother Ever. The fact that she loves us more than anything despite our attempts at putting her into a straight-jacket is just icing on the cake.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I’m glad to call you my mother as well as my friend.

 

mother 2

what my mother looked like most of the time we were growing up

 

Sibling Wars

Let’s hop back in the time machine and go back to Wendy’s childhood; a time and place that—if I’m forced to be honest—might be best left in the past. Why? Possibly because at my mature(ish) age now, I can admit that there were moments in my family’s history in which I might not have been the nicest member of it.

An example? Still to this day I come damn close to crying with laughter when I think about the time my brother knocked himself out after he ran off our porch and into the clothes pole in our backyard when he was about seven. Absolutely hysterical to me. The funniest part wasn’t that he hit it so hard it left a long, pole shaped bruise down his torso. The funniest part is the fact that the pole had been there, literally, our entire lives. How he forgot about it so completely that he ran into it so hard he knocked himself out is pure comedy. Don’t roll your eyes. It’s my duty as a sister to laugh at stuff like that. That’s what siblings are for, for cryin’ out loud.

Not like he didn’t have his moments of payback. Like the time he hit me in the head with a hardball (a.k.a. baseball) when I was about 6. He and his friends were playing a game we called “rundown” which was similar to what is commonly called “monkey in the middle.” Or if you’re good at baseball terminology, it’s a game centered round being caught in a pickle. When I got beaned in the head, I was the monkey. Being the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys, I was always the monkey or whatever unsavory role there was to be had in the street game du jour. (To be fair, being the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys got much, much better as we got older). But I digress. So, I was the monkey. My brother was manning one base. His friend was holding down the other. All of a sudden—BAM—I got socked right in the head with the ball.

Now I’m not saying it was on purpose or anything. Let’s be clear about that. I have no evidence supporting wrongdoing. BUT if it was orchestrated, I probably deserved it. I could hold my own in the never-ending “war of the siblings” which means I had to commit a few acts of questionable morality to keep up with my brother’s torment.  Need I refer you to the mushroom incident?

That was the great thing about my brother and I. We always went tit for tat. It was never a lopsided fight between the two of us. Sort of like our own personal version of Spy vs. Spy. Neither one of us would have the upper hand for too long before the other took it right back just when the dust was about to settle.

Now, as a parent, I look back on these acts of juvenile recklessness and am stumped on how my mother survived with her sanity intact.  I can totally understand now why she always had that anxious look on her face.  She was probably in a constant state of worry about what one of us would either do to ourselves or to each other next.  Would this be the day we’d have to make another hospital run? Are the cops on speed dial in case one of us went missing…again? Actually – that’s a funny story and one I’ll tell another time.

Luckily my brother and I both survived (not without our fair share of nicks and bruises along the way). We made it to adulthood and, call me crazy, but I think all that silly cartoonish competition as we were growing up only served to make us better friends in the end.  It certainly has given us some great stories to tell around the holiday dinner table.

Keith_Wendy Easter 1971 (2)

 

Keith_Wendy Easter 1971

 

Keith_Wendy unknown

 

Mushroom Musing

I’m sure I had you all fooled, but believe it or not I might not have been the smartest kid in the world. Shocking, right? I wasn’t exactly getting invited to join MENSA on my fifth birthday or beating Deep Blue at chess matches in my free time, and that’s okay. I wasn’t a child prodigy but I was still smarter than my brother and during those precious years of childhood that was all that mattered. In hindsight it wasn’t even a fair fight. He was gullible as anything (which in most cases is an endearing trait but when you have siblings it’s a death sentence) and it didn’t help matters that when I was young, I looked like a sweet angel with nary a devilish thought in her precious little head. It didn’t take me long to realize that the way I was being judged on the outside could certainly be a benefit in successfully getting away with whatever mischievous acts my prank-filled head came up with.

A perfect example of my brother’s credulity comes in the form of a story that’s often told around my mother’s table as a cautionary tale about me. I’m not sure I think that’s fair. But you can judge for yourselves.

One night way back when, we were all out at a restaurant called White Coffee Pot Jr. having a nice family dinner. My brother ordered Salisbury Steak complete with gravy and mushrooms. I, on the other hand, did not order Salisbury Steak complete with gravy and mushrooms.  It didn’t take long though for me to wish very much that I had.

Now, it was quite obvious that my brother was enjoying the hell out of his mushrooms.  So naturally my first thought was to find some way to spoil it so that he would end up giving me his mushrooms. I desperately wanted those mushrooms and had to make him so disgusted at the thought of them that he’d just give them up. Yeah, well, don’t cry too hard for him. Remember, he’s the older brother so you can be sure he messed with me on a daily basis. This was just karma rearing its ugly head. No matter that I was only six years old at the time. By then I was already a well-honed grifter. For those of you with siblings, I’m sure you understand.

I started out playing it coy by planting just a little seed of doubt in his head which quickly escalated to a full on sequoia of uncertainty (after all, I had to get to him before he ate them all or they got cold). A few of the well-timed and expertly calculated phrases included the following:

“Hey, are you suuuure those are mushrooms?”

“You know, I think maybe the cook made a mistake. I’m not sure I’d eat them if I were you.”

“They kinda look a little like toadstools to me.”

“Do they taste funny?”

“You know, you’re looking a little peaked…”

I tossed out all of these questions in a nice, easy-going conversational tone with very subtle yet significant pauses in-between. As the inquiries mounted so did his scrutiny over the dish. I watched his hesitance blossom as the inquisition went on, each question hammering away at his defenses. And voila! The mushrooms were mine.

Big Brother: 0 Little Sister: 1.

It was a very convincing performance if I do say so myself. I’m no Meryl Streep but I really do think I should have an Oscar on my mantle.  The good side to this social experiment, besides my victory with a reward of mushrooms to celebrate, is that my brother lost just a tad bit of his gullibility. I gave him a life lesson free of charge and do you know that to this day he’s never even thanked me? So ungrateful.

ME in blue dress

never judge a book by its cover