There must be 50 ways to celebrate your lover

Ah, my wife.

I present to you a woman who never gives herself enough credit. She never thinks she’s smart enough, funny enough, pretty enough, good enough.

Well, today, now, here, on the 50th anniversary of her birth, I’m here to celebrate the woman that never celebrates herself. The one that always…always…puts others before herself.

So, let’s look at these one by one, shall we?

She never thinks she’s smart enough. Yet, I can’t tell you how often she’s taken charge of a situation and, going on nothing but gut instinct, made the decisions I was too stupid or too locked up with emotion to make. And each time, I didn’t just question the decision, I openly opposed it. It was wrong. Every time, I knew it was wrong.

Yeah, the only damn thing that was wrong was my opinion. Karen was right. Karen is always right.

It’s tough for me to write that, but in my heart, I know it’s true. It’s hard to admit that I’m not as smart as I think I am, and that my wife often outsmarts me. Doesn’t matter if it’s a big life decision, or something as simple as watching an episode of Criminal Minds and she always guesses the plot before I do. She does it every damn time. And I’m the writer, dammit!

She never thinks she’s funny enough. Okay, well, to be fair, I’m a sarcastic joker and I’m always on. I’m sure that gets tiring. But then, add into the mix our daughter, who inherited the sarcasm gene from both parents. And there’s Hunter, our son. He’s hilarious. In fact, our daughter actually created a Twitter feed for him, Willy’s Wise Words. And then there’s our friends Ryan and Lisa. Ryan’s gotta be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and his wife is hilarious too (especially when she cracks a joke, laughs at it, and says, “I’m funny!”). So, in a group like this, it’s hard to consider yourself funny.

And yet, Karen is often hilarious. She won’t let me post the video, but there’s a lovely few minutes of footage of Karen when she had dental surgery, and being stoned afterward on the drugs that’s simply gutbusting. There’s also this one, where Ryan plays on Karen’s fear of defying superstitions (specifically, opening an umbrella indoors).

How about that scream, huh? Jamie Lee Curtis had nothing on her.

But even this past week in Vegas, Karen had us in stitches by simply doing the John Belushi SNL sketch about cheeseburgers. You know the one.

“Chee’burgarchee’burgarchee’burgarcheepcheepcokenocokePEPSI!”

Yet, when Karen does it, she does this weird thing where her face freezes up and her lips don’t move. It’s unexplainable, and a riot to watch.

So is watching her try to curl her tongue. Or when someone’s getting to her and her chin sharpens. I can’t explain it any better than that. Her chin gets…pointier.

And then there’s what happened this last night. We went out to dinner and, as I sat across from her, I reminded her this was her last meal as someone in their forties. Then I said, “Jeez, tomorrow, I’m gonna be married to an old lady.” And her immediate response was perfect.

“You won’t be if you keep that shit up.”

She never thinks she’s pretty enough. I remember, long ago, I worked in a camera store, on the camera sales side. On the opposite side of the store was photofinishing. I stood with one of my coworkers and we watched this hot woman come in and drop some film off. The coworker nudged me, and said something like, “Damn, she’s got a great ass.” Then she turned around and he said something about her being hot. I ignored him, because she walked straight across the store to me, leaned over the counter and kissed me. My coworker’s jaw damn near bounced off the counter. Yeah, that hot girl was my girlfriend. And now, just a hair under 25 years later, she’s my wife.

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The amazing thing is, over those intervening years, she’s only gotten more beautiful. Maturity suits her.

Vegas

She never thinks she’s good enough. This, above all the others, shocks me. Over the years, I could not have asked for a more wonderful wife. She always supported me in whatever I tried to do, believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She always put my needs and others that actually didn’t deserve her attention ahead of her own. She would bend over backward to help anyone in need, even those that had been horrible to her. If it weren’t for my wife, I would never be the guy I am today.

And she’s the ultimate mother. Seriously, if it had been up to me to raise the kids, they would only have memories of sitting in front of a television with some sugary cereal to eat, and maybe a lot of Beatles and Pink Floyd playing in the background. Karen planned all their events, their lessons, their sports, trips, vacations…everything. I’m useless when it comes to this stuff. Seriously, I’m lucky to get myself dressed in the morning.

And overall, beyond all that, she’s been my partner through life. We’ve navigated many rough waters together, sometimes paddling in sync with each other, sometimes trying to paddle in two different directions, but always in the same boat. And our destination is clear. We’ll be there for each other, no matter what. But for me, Karen’s the one I turn to, the one I talk to, the one that is my rock.

My point here is, though she’ll never admit to it, she is smart enough, funny enough, pretty enough, good enough. She’s more than I deserve, and all that I desire.

I can’t imagine my life without this woman and, today, as she celebrates five decades of life, I’m glad that she chose to spend more than half of it with me. I hope she’ll be with me when we’re staring down 100 years.

I love you, babe. Happy birthday.

 

A quiet nobility

Last night, we got the call we knew was coming, but didn’t ever want to get: Marilyn was gone.

Marilyn was my mother-in-law, mother to Kim, Chris and my wife, Karen, and married to Bill Richardson for over five decades. It’s easy to sum her up by the numbers. Mother of three, grandmother of six, wife of 54 years… but that’s not a fair or accurate assessment.

I met Marilyn back when I was about seventeen. I’d gone to school with her oldest daughter, Kim and had stopped by their house with a friend. I know I met her then, but I have no memory of it.

But if we skip ahead ten more years, that’s when I had started dating Karen, the middle child and Kim’s only sister. I was a cocky ass back in those days–something that hasn’t changed much in the intervening twenty-five years–and I met Marilyn again, for the first time.

I remember a few things about that meeting. Her friendliness, her openness, her immediate acceptance of this gangly, long-haired smartass…even when I found out she didn’t like the word “snot” and I then used it about twenty times. That was the first time I saw the look.

She got this look when someone would rib her about something. She’d set her mouth in a way that was somehow grim and yet smiling all at the same time. Her eyes would dance with a playful light, and the entire thing came together in an enjoy this now, because I’m so gonna get you later look.

She rarely did, but still, the look was delightful and terrifying. Because there was always that question of, what if she actually does get me later?

There was one time however, when she was quite proud of herself. Karen and I were over at her parents’ place and, as usual, I was being a smartass with Marilyn. To be honest, it was something the two of us shared, easily and comfortably. She was always content to be my straight man, and I loved her for it. Anyway, this particular time, I said something to get her goat, and she responded, uncharacteristically, with something like, “You better watch out, mister. I’ll get you for that.” This, of course, accentuated with her sharply pointing finger.

Of course I laughed it off.

We got home, and I got a case of the annoying ahems. This turned into a bit of a cough, and by morning, I had, for the one and only time in my life, a case of laryngitis. I couldn’t speak.

And when Karen called her mother to let her know, Marilyn was delighted, insisting it was her that put the whammy on me. You’ve got to admit, when I’m sassing her, the best revenge would be to steal my voice. She never forgot that, even though it was almost twenty-five years in the past, and she still threatened me with it every so often. And somehow, for all my bluster, it would tend to shut me up.

What I remember most about Marilyn was her mannerisms. I’ve already mentioned the look. I was the recipient of that many, many times. But there was also her true don’t mess with me look, that would come out when she related a story about a teacher being unfair to one of her kids, or any other injustice that she had to deal with. Marilyn never looked like a badass, but she definitely could be. It was obvious that there was a badassery about her. That was one look I never wanted directed my way and, thankfully, it never was.

There was that aforementioned wagging finger. She often told a story, and when she was ready to make her point, or give us the punchline of the story, she’d take a breath, pop the finger and start it with something like, “and you know…”

She also had this expression that she’d pop out as much as she did the finger. It became one of my catchphrases to throw back at her on occasion. She’d say, “Now, I’m not trying to be smart, but…” I loved that expression, and I hope she hears it when I use it going forward.

And then there were the birthdays. Whether it was one of her kids, the spouses of her kids, or her grand kids, she never forgot a birthday, and you could count on a call on your special day with her grinning rendition of the Happy Birthday song, all the way through, and sung loud and proud.

With her in the hospital this year, this was the first birthday since I was 26 that I didn’t hear that song. As delightfully torturous as it was to receive, I missed it horribly, and I’ll miss it until the end of my days.

Again, these are just small glimpses into the who Marilyn was. While she wasn’t always happy, having moods and bad days like the rest of us, she always seemed like a happy person. She enjoyed her kids, she enjoyed her grand kids even more. There were times when I know she didn’t have a bloody clue what they were talking about, but she was always interested, always delighted to spend time with them, and she would talk about it for hours and days later. She was proud of their accomplishments and she never missed a significant event in any of my kids’ lives. She seemed to soak up their youthful energy and radiate it back.

She was godawful horrible on a computer. I can’t tell you how many times I walked her through bringing back an icon that she’d inadvertently deleted, or navigating to a website, or showing her how to delete email. But for all of that, she never gave up, she never stopped trying, because her computer provided a window into the lives of those she loved. And though it could be frustrating for me to go through this, her gratitude afterward always made me feel guilty for ever being frustrated. And again, I’d give anything today to get one of those calls from her.

Even though I came into the picture after all this had passed, I know she was active in the schools her kids went to, and she made her home open to all the friends of her kids. I’m still friends with some of them today and they all have fond, warm memories of her.

And I can’t write about Marilyn without talking about her fifty-four year marriage to her husband, Bill. They’ve had a good marriage. They raised three great kids and watched them all become successful and happy. They’ve seen their grand kids grow up and become good people as well. They’ve traveled, in the last couple of decades heading down to Florida. They usually left in late September, and heading home before Christmas, with the long-running joke that they had to leave the country before my birthday in early October. So, yes, Marilyn could be a smartass when she wanted to be too.

But I’ve watched Bill and Marilyn closely over the past quarter-century. Yes, they’ve had their fights as all married couples do, but when it came right down to it, for all their differences, these two people became one. They had many of the same interests, enjoyed the same things, while still being very much their own people. Marilyn had her Young and the Restless, Bill had his fishing. Marilyn would play Wheel of Fortune on the computer, Bill would putter in his garage. They knew how to be together, and they knew when the other needed their space. But when they were together, they doted on each other, worried about each other, even told stories together, sometimes switching off between one another, sometimes talking over each other in their excitement to get the story out. That always left me wondering exactly who to look at. As far as I’m concerned, they had a wonderful, loving, caring marriage. I can only hope my own is as successful and long-running as theirs.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how Marilyn was doing. And the friend remarked that in all the time we’d known them, about eighteen years, they had never, not once, heard us say anything cross about Marilyn. She’d never said anything catty about anyone, she’d never gotten involved in drama or family politics, she’d never stuck her nose in where it wasn’t welcomed and didn’t belong. She never fought with anyone.

She was nothing less than kind, supportive, warm and loving. She was a woman of quiet nobility and understated support. She was always there if you needed her, but she’d never overstep her bounds.

She was a loving mother and grandmother, a good friend and a devoted wife and she was, in her own way, quietly extraordinary.

She was, on paper, my mother-in-law, but she was so much more to me. She was a friend, a sparring partner, my straight man, my biggest fan and a staunch supporter for anything I attempted. I know there was a couple of times when I inadvertently made her cry and I regret those with all my heart and soul. But there was other times when I made her laugh, sometimes wildly and unabashedly, and for those, I’m truly grateful. I’m glad that somehow, in my own clumsy way, I was able to bring some joy to her life.

She was my mother too, and I loved her. And I always will.

Nobody could ask for more than what you achieved in life, Marilyn: You were well loved. And you will be missed by anyone that knew you.

Goodbye Marilyn.

Bill & Marilyn

Life is hard

A few months back, I wrote a blog called Life is beautiful, where I talk a lot about the shitty things life can throw at you, but how you can also rise above them.

I know that life’s hard.  Believe me, I’ve been through a lot of it myself.  I’ve survived an alcoholic father, a drug-abusing brother, my parents divorcing when I was five, another ugly divorce when I was seventeen, a heartbreaking child abuse case where I and my wife seriously considered adopting my nephew and many, many other things.  Any one of those is enough for one lifetime.  Yet, still they came and, I’m sure, more will yet.

Still, I came through them all and I’m stronger, wiser and, I hope, a lot more humble for it.

But right now, as of today, I’m finding myself worrying about a few friends and family going through a lot of pain.

One man I know is desperately trying to hold on to his marriage.  He’s gone through a lot in his life and I think he’s going through something I went through a while ago.  He thought he had many of the rough elements of his earlier life under control, only to find out they’ve just gone underground, but still exert their influence on him, just more subtly.

Then there’s another friend who lost his daughter in a horrific car accident five years ago today.  She was only trying to get a couple of friends home safely, but instead she paid a terrible price for her caring deed.  That man has turned to talking to groups about impaired driving and what it can do.

My mother has, in the last year, broken her arm up near the shoulder where it couldn’t be cast, and in the past few months, has had first one, then a second, then three more discs collapse in her spine, leaving her in pain for months.

And finally, there’s a brave little boy in Clarkston, MI who’s been battling brain cancer since he was four.  He defied the odds and celebrated his tenth birthday this past Thursday.  After seven surgeries and several chemo and radiation treatments, he decided the toll they took on his body was too much and refused further treatment for the tumors that showed up late last year.  He decided to take on the rest of his life on his own terms.  An unbelievably adult decision for a nine-year-old boy to make and an equally hard one to honour for the parents.

MELISSA MOORADIAN PHOTOGRAPHY

That little boy died a few hours ago.

I’ve seen so many heroic people fighting for what’s important to them.  Happiness,  accountability for past sins, love, teaching others, grappling with age, dignity.

In that previous post, I said

Sometimes we just feel like giving up, packing it all in. How can it get worse that it already is, right? And that’s when we can see how much more hurt can be piled on. There’s always more. But you know what? It’s never more than we can handle. We can think that we’re done, that we can’t handle it. But we can. And then something will happen–something really bad, something really good, something really earthshaking, or something small–but something, and you’ll feel alive again.

And you’ll open your eyes like it was the first time.

Don’t ever give up. Life is beautiful.

I still believe what I said.  It’s a little harder tonight, knowing there’s one less bright spark on the planet with that little boy’s passing.  It’s hard to understand why this can even happen.

We see people like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston and hundreds of others who are given every opportunity in the world and they piss it away and wind up face down in a tub.  All that talent, all that potential, gone.

But what did a little four-year-old boy do to deserve five years of hell?  What did a 21-year-old woman at the start of her life do to deserve what happened to her?  What about their potential?  What about their talent?  Why were they not allowed to explore them?

I wonder sometimes at the cruelty of this life.  I wonder that life can be this hard.

And yet, I see a man turning the tragedy around.  Doing what he can to ensure her short life made a difference in the lives of others.  I see a little boy who ultimately brought a community together.  He spawned a worldwide cancer awareness campaign on Twitter.

We’ll never know why these things happen, but at least we can point to what came after and know there’s hope.  There’s always hope.

And we can realize, when we look at our own family members, our friends and those loved by us, that, even at least for today, we have them with us.  We can look at them and smile.  We can tell them we love them and that we’re happy they’re in our lives.

We can tell them that, because of them, these people who may not have done anything particularly special other than just be who they are, because of them, life is beautiful.  That they are our heroes.

Go tell someone you love them.  Right now.

The Great Chocolate Meltdown

I wrote this blog two years ago today.  I think it speaks for itself.

Love stinks.

J. Geils Band – Love Stinks

I don’t think there are adequate words in the English language to properly show how much I hate Valentine’s Day.

Every day I tell my wife I love her. Usually more than once. Same with my kids. After work, I come home to my wife. Every night. We share a bed. Every night. I’ve been with the same woman and been faithful to her for over 22 years now. That’s only 22 Valentine’s Days, but actually more than 8000 days. I’ve helped raise two kids with her. We’ve laughed, cried, fought and loved each other without break for almost half my life and more than half hers.

UPDATE: Those stats have shifted to being with her over 24 years, 24 Valentine’s Days and almost 9000 days.  So there.

Do I really need to buy her a card and chocolate to prove I love her? What utter, unmitigated bullshit. I mean, seriously.

I’m beginning to think this day was designed by women so they can lord all the screw ups their men make on this day over them for the rest of the year to boost their Birthday and Christmas booty. Just my thought.

A few years back, The Wife said to me, “You know, Valentine’s is a pretty artificial day. You really don’t have to do anything for me.”

Stupidly, I took that at face value.

In my own defence, it was earlier in my marriage, but really, I’d lived with the woman long enough that I should have realized what she was really saying was, “You know, Valentine’s is coming up. You better not listen to anything I’m saying and go out and spend good cash on me, dammit, because I live with you and I can make your life a living hell.”

On the day, I woke up happy and content. Ah yes, Valentine’s Day. No big deal, I got a woman who understands the artificiality of the whole thing. Life is good.

Then I got the, “I can’t believe you didn’t do anything for me!” speech. Which, perversely, left me speechless. Now I knew how all those people felt when they finally figured out they had just entered the Twilight Zone.

Yeah, shoulda picked up on that one. Didn’t. Paid for it.

So, going forward, I never made the mistake again. I always get her something. Got my bases covered, right?

Wrong.

This year, I was having a discussion at the dinner table about the ghosts of Valentine’s past, and I mentioned the above situation. The Girl piped up, “Oh Mom! You didn’t! You didn’t fall into that stereotype, did you?”

And I thought, yes! I’m bringing my kids up right. They understand the value of true feelings, that relationships don’t hinge on a card and chocolate one day out of the year, and are learning to despise crass marketing schemes. Good on me!

So, yesterday, in between running the Boy from guitar lessons to snowboarding lessons, I tried to get him to make like a Kleenex and put a little boogie in it so we’d have some time to pick up the Valentine’s crap. As usual, the Boy is incapable of doing anything at a reasonable speed (took him 30 full minutes to drink one mug of hot chocolate), so we fell drastically behind. In the end, I was able to get the Wife’s stuff, but I had to forgo the trip to William’s Chocolate in Whitby (they really do make some kick-ass chocolate) where I usually buy my son his chocolate “H” and my daughter her chocolate “M”. I asked how he felt if he didn’t get his, and he–being male–was okay with it.

Today, Valentine’s Day, I was driving my daughter to work and she had tears–actual tears–in her eyes because she didn’t get her M.

I came home feeling like a shit.  And feeling like, after 47 years, I’ve learned nothing about the way women operate.

UPDATE: 49 years now.  Sigh.

She came home from work and had a relapse. In fact, it was so epic, I think it may, in future, be referred to as The Great Chocolate Meltdown of 2010.

UPDATE: It has.  Two years running now.

So I packed everyone up and took them out for dinner. And made sure my daughter got a chocolate lava cake for dessert. Apparently now that it’s been consumed, life can continue on again.

So, next year? Yes, I’ll be like every other man. I’ll get that same vague feeling that some card or candy confectionary has put a heart-shaped gun to my head and told me to get out there and prove my love for my girls through the purchase of perishable edible sugary treats and recycled paper goods with pithy poems. Cuz nothing says lovin’ like spending good cash, dammit.

In the end, I’ll leave the phenomenal Warren Ellis to provide some words of wisdom on Valentine’s Day that you can think long and hard on.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all. And to those who hate the day, I say this: Valentine’s Day is a Christian corruption of a pagan festival involving werewolves, blood and fucking. So wish people a happy Horny Werewolf Day and see what happens.

Warren Ellis

So, Happy Horny Werewolf Day to all!