Sunday, November 25, 2012

Don't Open Till Christmas

   While it was important to me to teach my children the joy found in tradition, I may have inadvertently taught them that change is not a good thing.  As my kids are now in their teens, they have certain expectations of how things are done and will not deviate from the accepted practices of their youth.  Christmas traditions are now set in stone at my house and are under full management of my children.

   Each year, my kids and I put up our family Christmas tree.  My daughter will have already erected a hot pink or glitter covered tree in her room complete with the traditional tree topper tiara because nothing says Christmas like a crown of jewels.  Her tree is decorated with tiny ornaments shaped like shoes and ornaments with pictures of loved family pets.  After her room is all aglow with Christmas lights and glitter we will focus our efforts on the family tree in our living room.  

   There is a very specific method in which we follow to put up this tree.  I will start by climbing into the attic screaming at those below to please catch the giant box or their mother, either of which will be falling from the ceiling at any moment.  I drag the age old box full of branches, which is not only larger than I, but heavier, as well, to the edge of the folding staircase and hope that someone is below to play catch.  The three of us begin sorting branches by length, matching coordinating letters of the alphabet with slots "C"  through "M" in the center pole.  I should have known I was setting myself up for future failure when, years ago, I threw out all of the bottom branches labeled "M".  They were too close to the ground and left no room for gifts or a mother and two children to crawl under the tree and stare up through the branches at all the lights and ornaments, each with their own story.  It is usually about the time we have finished most of the tree that we realize we put all the branches in the wrong slots because we weren't suppose to fill the bottom row.  My children will quickly disappear, leaving me to rework the entire tree, raising each limb one level.  

   After the tree is complete, we tackle lighting.  My son is in charge of untangling all the lights and stretching them out to ensure they work.  While I meticulously place each light so that wires don't show, the kids start crafting their own lighting plans that usually involve decorating my daughter with miniature lights.  Before too long, I have to unwind not only the lights, but the kids, the dog and anyone else who moved too slowly across my living room. 

   After the limbs are in the right place and we have achieved the perfect degree of twinkling, it is time to place the ornaments on the tree.  This is an age old tradition that my children will not share with anyone.  The three of us sit on the living room floor and "oohh" and "aahhhh" as we unpack Hallmark ornaments collected through the years.  The kids remember where each of their ornaments were placed the year before and seek out coveted places on the tree.  The first ornaments to be sought out are two turtles with hinged shells holding signs that say "Don't Open Until Christmas."  Inside is a sleeping turtle waiting for Christmas day. The original turtle belonged to my son.  My daughter had terrible turtle envy as she watched her brother open and close the turtle's shell through the years, regardless of a sign that clearly prohibited such.  Being a good mom, I found an identical ornament on EBay and now we have two turtles, one with a letter A permanently inscribed on the belly for my daughter.  


   Somewhere in our box or ornaments, is a "Hunchback of Notre Dame" ornament.  It has always frightened my daughter, so my son makes sure to hang it as close as possible to her favorite ornament. She will look up with pride to see if her turtle's shell is properly closed and will gasp in horror when she sees the hunched over man suspended from the branch next to her turtle.  It's not long until we have a missing turtle, the scary man is hidden in the back of the tree, someone is in tears and I'm decorating by myself.  


I will stop to remind the kids how much we love decorating the tree and soon we are hanging tiny angels, hand made ornaments and miniature record players that play Christmas Carols.  My son has more ornaments than my daughter because he is older and it doesn't take long before she is on the edge of tears as she believes that he has more special ornaments than she. This is usually another opportune moment for the Hunchback to reappear, this time sitting on a turtle. Tears ensue and I'm hanging ornaments alone again. 

I'll begin a serious hunt to unpack all of my daughter's "special" ornaments so that she will clearly see that she has an equal amount of love hanging from the tree.  After the last of the Hot Wheels ornaments and tiny mice on sleds are hung, we begin hanging all of the ornaments the kids have made through the years.  We have strands of Cheerios and Fruit loops preserved in lacquer and love and paper angels made out of coffee filters.  My daughter has painted a series of wonderful ornaments and my son has many that look like he may have contracted out a team of artists to create. I believe his teachers may have helped him with his ornament making, but the love is still there.    

Before long, we have a tree full of memories that has been born out of years of love and tradition. I suppose my children are right that some things simply cannot be changed. 

Allie's Tree

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Last of The Slip and Slides

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   There are two things in this world that draw me in like a siren’s call and stop me in my tracks.  One is the stand of last minute goodies strategically placed near a cash register in case you forgot something.  Who doesn’t need a miniature bottle of wiper fluid or a deck of magic cards?  My attention is captured by these products that call my name and I’m often found placing them in my basket and looking over my shoulder in embarrassment to see who observed my impulsive buy.  The other attention grabber is the headline menu on Yahoo news.  Who can resist those teaser headlines such as “What is That Thing Over Denver” or “Ten Most Beloved Banned Products”?  The latter was discovered this morning and I instantly went to see what these beloved products were. 

    I was horrified to learn that I own every single one of these wonderful yet dangerous items that have delivered so much joy to my family.  The first lethal item on the list was Lawn Darts.  I suppose I can understand how chucking a metal spear at your friends might be considered unsafe, especially after a few margaritas and game changing rules such as wearing a blindfold.  I can accept that one without too much argument.  The next item to soon be removed from shelves is the Slip 'n Slide.  Who hasn’t enjoyed the summer fun of diving head first into the lawn that has baked into a nice metamorphic rock under the heat of a southern sun.  With bloody knees and bruised elbows, we have tackled the Slip 'n Slide as kids and adults, demonstrating our skill at sliding down a 30 ft long piece of wet vinyl like Olympians.  I was once able to perform this feat with a perfectly chilled bottle of Sam Adams in my hand and neither the bottle, nor my bones broke.  I vote that Slip 'n Slide remain on the shelves.
    Next on the list came Bucky Balls.  I have a collection of these sitting on my dining room table that we play with every morning.  It is a grouping of small magnetic spheres that you can sculpt into fun shapes like the Eiffel Tower or DNA.  It seems that if one is crazy enough to eat a set of Bucky Balls, these little magnetic wonders can reconnect in your intestine and pinch off vital organs.  If someone is going to eat Bucky Balls, they are just as likely to eat the muffler on my car or a handful of safety pins, all which could pose equally dangerous internal threats.   Bucky Balls should be removed from the list and common sense should be given more credit. 
The list included other items, all found in my house…. electric blankets, fondue sets, hammocks, beanie bag chairs and bunk beds.  I’m not sure, but I believe I have witnessed my children asleep on a beanie chair on the top bunk of their bed, wrapped in an electric blanket.  Had they known what a fondue set was, they would have been dipping bread into a cheesy sauce with the extending forks I had procured from the check-out stand at Wal-Mart.   We are evidently the epitome of safety violations and yet, I’ve never lost a kid, pinched off an organ or taken out an eye with a lawn dart.    

    Before these products disappear from our lives, I plan to host a party using each of these soon to be extinct items.  My friend Jenny can whip up some fondue while Kelly and Chris cover the drive with vinyl sheeting.   The kids can gather all the hammocks, beanie chairs, portable pocket chairs and five gallon buckets for seating.  If we aren’t tossing lawn darts at each other, we can bring out the practice arrows and sling shots.  I do hope nobody confuses the Bucky balls on my dining room table with hors d’oeuvres.  In the event of a pinched intestine, I do have a plan involving a giant industrial magnet attached to my washing machine that I use to disrupt spin cycles (a whole other story).  It may be possible to retrieve the Bucky Balls if needed.   
    While the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is concerned about our safety, they should truly spend one day in the Brodnax household and they would understand why these products are vital to the happiness of a generation.  If we swallow a Beanie Bag Chair, or upset the polarity of our inner magnetic field with our electric blankets, I take full responsibility and will not blame the CPSC. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sleeping With One Eye Open

    My son is a Disk Jockey and he works later than most kids his age because of the nature of his business.  Of course, he only has to to work twice a month to make the same money I once made at seventeen flipping hamburgers and wearing that horrible "Wendy's" blue cotton uniform that looked much like a French maid with its puffy sleeves and low cut neckline.  I try hard to stay awake to make sure my son returns home safely, but at those late hours I am known to cat nap while he is out.  I have mulitple alarms set on my phone to go off every hour on the hour so I can stalk him properly and make sure he isn't late and lying in a ravine somewhere.   I lie on the couch and doze in and out with one eye open and one hand on my phone.  My son knows the rule that he must wake me upon return so I can turn off the alarms and then move into a regular sleep pattern.   The problem with this is that my cognitive reasoning is dulled after going in and out of sleep several times and I tend to agree with most anything said to me as my body aches to return to sleep.  My children have discovered this flaw in my plan and have used it to their benefit. 

    I recently discovered my children's brilliant scheming when my daughter was going to be out later than normal and I made the same deal with her.  "Make sure you wake me up when you get home so I won't worry."  My children don't understand how I could be worrying if I'm asleep, but real sleep is far from what I go through while waiting for them to return.  My son shook his head and continued on with his dinner.  I overheard him tell my daughter that all she had to do was tell me the next morning that she did wake me and I would never know the difference! Gads!   Had I failed as a parent!   

    Truth be told,  I suppose I've done something right because I do have good kids and I don't worry too terribly much.  I know they have been placed in safe situations and pray they will return at the correct time.  But this new piece of information left me concerned. As the clock nears midnight, I simply can't keep my eyes open and I begin setting alarm clocks.  Recently, my son came in around midnight smelling of a perfectly baked triple tiered sweet 16 cake.  Knowing he was home safely, I rolled over, turned off the alarm clocks and returned to REM sleep.  About twenty minutes later, he woke me again to inform me he was going to the movies.  "Movies are fun.  What a great idea!" I thought, in my half awake haze located somewhere between reality and dreamland.  As my son and friends were headed out of the door, my mind kicked in and I remembered that the theater was fifty miles away and it was already after midnight.  Those kids just think I sleep through all of this.  Needless to say, nobody went to the movies and I returned to my bed with a house full of children trying to figure out what to do next. 

    I now realize that they were up the rest of the night, based on the evidence strewn from my kitchen to the pool house and the teenage boy asleep on my couch whose name I don't know.  I think you have to look for blessings and I should be glad that it wasn't a teenage couple on my couch.  It can always be worse, you know.   Deciding coffee would make a wonderful addition to my morning,  I headed to the kitchen, but it appears that one of my children was the self appointed coffee barista last night as the bag of grounds was empty and the frappe machine was still humming a low sound of overuse.    When I was my kid's age, we had the hand-crank Snoopy Snow Cone machine with off-brand Kool Aid mixes. Nowadays, these kids are downloading instant coffee beverage recipes and blending up mixtures of caffeine and confections surely to keep them wired long enough to cook all the frozen pizzas in the house.  Is this the entrance ramp to the path of destruction, I ask!   I suppose it could be much worse.

    As my children sleep uninterrupted, I'm left with the following morning beverage choices, none of which I find appealing...   the bottom of a bottle of Mountain Dew Black (I think you can boost your car's mpg rating with that stuff), the last of a gallon of room temperature milk left on my counter from last night, or some lemongrass black tea obviously purchased by me when I thought I would try this healthy vegan eating thing that lasted about three days.   My mother lives down the street and I could grab the dogs, walk over with them, dig out my old Snoopy Snow Cone machine and make some double raspberry snow cone drink.  Or.... there is the McDonald's drive thru!  

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...