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.

 

Spoon feeding the Boy

Spoonman, come together with your hands
Save me, on together with your plans

SoundgardenSpoonman

It’s been two months since I’ve really had to think of something to blog. Got a little worried for a bit. Well, until we went over to the Hickey’s for a typical Saturday evening. Should have known there’d be some material there.

As I usually do whenever trying to recreate an evening with the Hickeys, I’m going to preface this with the warning that no amount of words can adequately or accurately capture exactly what happens in those few short hours. But I’m going to give it a shot.

Now, the interesting thing is, this time, it seemed to be primarily my own family that provided most of the fodder for this blog.

Not sure if you’ve ever played the game Spoons, so a bit of a description is in order. Imagine ten people sitting at a large antique dinner table (though any table will do). Laid out on the table are nine spoons…one less than the number of players. Each player is dealt four cards. Cards are then shifted down the line of players as quickly as possible, with the aim of being the first to get four of a kind. Whoever gets the four of a kind then snatches a spoon, setting off a mad scramble for the remaining spoons. Just like in musical chairs, there’s always going to be one person that gets left out because there isn’t enough spoons to go around.

spoons gameIt’s usually the last spoon, grabbed at the same time by the last two players, that’s the most hotly contested. Fingers tighten. Wills are tested.

Each time you miss a spoon, you gain a letter. When you’ve collected five letters–S-P-O-O-N–then you’re out. So getting those spoons is serious business.

Well, I’m sure in other households it’s serious business. With the Elliotts and the Hickeys, it can be life or death.

Seriously. In the past, I’ve seen people dragged across tables, one hand furiously clutching the contested spoon. I’ve seen players dive under the table. I’ve seen spoons bent and twisted into wet spaghetti shapes.

bent spoonAnd the players! I’ve seen red faces, clenched, white-knuckled fists, bulging biceps, gritted teeth, steely determination.

You’d never know this was a game.

Anyway, let’s go back to this particular evening. We’d brought our niece over as she’d come to visit for the weekend. Now, you may argue that it was unfair to bring her into that hellish arena, but then I’d just say you don’t know The Niece. She can hold her mud, let me tell ya.

To be honest, and in the spirit of full transparency, I put the blame squarely on her for the unfortunate events that transpired later that evening.

It started with the first round. My daughter, the Girl happened to be seated directly across from the Niece. And they tussled over the first spoon. It wasn’t horrible, but it was a tussle.

The second round went the same way. Same two people.

By the third round, they had kicked the chairs back, and stood, pulling and straining, each refusing to back down. Until the Niece dipped her head in and the Girl yelped. The Niece bit her.

Yup. She really did. She pulled that move early and used it unabashedly. I think the fact that she busted that one out quickly speaks to her upraising, don’t you? Perhaps she wasn’t breast fed enough, or bottle fed far too early, I don’t know.

Anyway, the game progressed, with various tussles at various times. The faces, the fists, the biceps, the teeth, the determination. Yadda yadda yadda.

At one point, the spoons got snatched up. Now, you have to understand, just because you grabbed a spoon, it doesn’t mean you necessarily keep it. They are fair game to be grabbed. This is why, when you get one, you pull it tight to you and cover it with most of your body.

In this case, the Boy had snagged a spoon and sat with it proudly gripped in his fist, the bowl of the spoon pointing skyward. Then another player swooped in, grabbed the bowl-end and stole it right out of his hands.

I don’t believe the Boy was amused. And I believe it stiffened his resolve to never lose another spoon again.

Then came the time when that last spoon came down to myself…and the Boy.

I should note here, that when I say “the Boy” I’m actually referring to a sixteen-year-old teen that’s as tall as I am and quite strong for his age.

So this was no mismatched battle of wills between a man and a little boy.

The boy grabbed the spoon but was at an immediate disadvantage, having caught only the handle of the spoon. I, on the other hand, caught it right in the middle. Somehow, in the ensuing struggle, the spoon got bent around my middle finger, so both the bowl and the handle faced the same way.

And the Boy kept tugging at it. It hurt like hell.

Unfortunately for the spoon, we’re both quite competitive and neither was giving up. Each time he pulled, it grated against a nerve in my finger and sent jangling pain up my arm.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I should have just let go. But I never claimed to be that smart.

Anyway, when he made no headway with that, he decided to engage the Niece Maneuver. Oh yes, he bit me. This is where I look disapprovingly at the Niece, by the way.

But let me clear: he did not just open his mouth and clamp down on my hand. Nope, he’s nastier than that. He actually grabbed at a small bit of skin on the back of my hand, just behind my first knuckle, pulling it up so that it resembled a skin tent. I was, quite frankly, surprised that my skin could flex that much.Hand1

And. He. Would. Not. Let. Go.

I had visions of a small chunk of skin from the back of my hand finally giving up and tearing away under the onslaught of his chompers, leaving him with a tasty treat and me with a bite-sized slash of missing epidermis.

Honestly. I pictured it. I kept waiting for him to pull back and have a piece of me in his mouth.Hand2

And. Still. I. Did. Not. Let. Go.

That kind of says something about me, doesn’t it. And yes, I realize, what it says isn’t that flattering.

Ultimately, I did the only thing I could do. Being the older, more responsible person, being the parent that should be setting the example and give my son the valuable life lesson than can only be found at turbulent times like these, I seized the opportunity.

Yup. I grabbed a solid wad of his hair and I frigging pulled for all I was worth.

Initially, I thought it was a mistake as that tent grew into more of a teepee, but ultimately, the Dad Gambit overcame the Boy Variant of the Niece Maneuver.

So, after all that, I got the damn spoon.

In the end, neither of us won the game.

Which likely was the overall learning of the evening.

Or maybe it was when one of the Hickeys looked at me and said, “You notice it’s only your family that was doing all the biting, right?”

One small step sometimes starts with a shove

My son, the one I commonly refer to as “the Boy” in this blog, is not your most normal of kids.  That’s both a blessing and a huge frustration.

I’ve said to him on many occasions that he’s bundle of possibilities. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else more prepared to take on the world. The amount of talent, skill, knowledge, both intuitive and learned, is staggering. He can quote stats about things I didn’t even think he cared about. Once, when I talked about a really complex idea that was completely fascinating because the two aspects completely contradicted each other, my wife and daughter looked at me like I had two heads. My son said, “Oh yeah, you’re talking about Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.” And he was right.

Uncle Albert laughs at your relatives

Uncle Albert laughs at your relatives

At the same time, he’s personable, he’s funny, possessing one of the sharpest wits I’ve ever seen. A few weeks ago, he “performed” the speech he claims he would tell at my funeral. It was completely improvised on the spot and it had us crying from laughter.

Old Graveyard by Petr Kratochvil

Old Graveyard by Petr Kratochvil

So, this is someone that has all the raw materials within him to wrestle what he wants from the world.

The frustration is, he either doesn’t realize it yet, or doesn’t care. Instead, he’s quite content to barely pass many of his subjects, show up late for class, and, when home, focus more on XBox than schoolwork.

I only pray that sometime in the next ten years, something will click for him and he’ll find his passion.  But that’s not what this blog is about.

One of his current obsessions is snowboarding, which I am glad of, because it gets him out of the basement and interacting with people face to face for a change. Plus, it’s great exercise. So I’m glad he’s found it.

But one of the promises he’d made to us just as Christmas holidays were coming up was that he would go write the first written exam toward attaining his driver’s license. And he’d told us a few times that he’d been reading the book. Well, Christmas is a hectic time, and I managed to get sick for the last week of it, so everyone sort of forget about it.

iStockphoto.com

iStockphoto.com

A couple of days ago, the Wife and I realized we only had until the end of this week to easily get it.  With his sister also off from college, it was much more convenient to get it prior to next week.

He went snowboarding Thursday. That left only Friday to get it. And it didn’t start well. He woke up late and declared he wasn’t ready to take it, nor did he even want it. So, being the great parents we are, we broke out the arguments. Your sister’s getting sick of driving you everywhere, as are we. We do lots of stuff for you, it’s time you did something we want. You promised. Blah blah blah.

He dug in, stating he was going to fail. He’d done a bunch of practice tests and he constantly failed them.

So, being the great parents we are, we dug in too. And thankfully, we had some leverage. “You don’t go for that exam today, you don’t go snowboarding tomorrow.”  And, unreasonable as it sounds, we said if he went, but failed, he still couldn’t go.

Why did we go this route? Because we know the Boy and we knew if we just set the boundary at having to write the exam, he’d go in and possibly not try. I doubt that’s the case, as he is competitive, however, it would be an quick and easy path to snowboarding tomorrow.

The Wife threw in one last brilliant stroke. “If you pass on the first try, we’ll pay for the snowboarding tomorrow.”

Then, we walked away and let him consider it. It took a couple of hours, but he decided he really had no choice. Saturday’s snowboarding session was all set up with a few friends already. If he didn’t write the test, or failed it, he’d have to tell them all he couldn’t go.

But if he passed it, not only could he go, but he could also state he was the first amongst his friends to get his license.

So, he showered and, with us wishing him good luck, his sister took him off to the Ministry of Transportation testing facilities. Honestly, I think she was happy to just be able to go and not have to be tested herself.

A while later, I heard the car doors slam and I dragged myself from my sick bed to see how he’d made out.

“So?” I said.

“I failed,” the Boy said. “I’ll have to go back on Monday.”

“How bad did you do?” I said, knowing anything more than four errors killed you.

“Seven wrong.”

I turned to head back up the stairs and I heard the giggling and I knew.

He’d passed it.

And he got it on the first try.

That’s one small step forward for him, even if we had to do the initial shove.

By 73.santi (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By 73.santi (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And so this is Christmas

And so this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year older
And a new one just begun.

Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon

This isn’t going to be one of those funny, heartwarming Christmas blogs. This one won’t put the fun in dysfunctional. This one’s pretty much all dysfunctional. So, if you’re looking for funny, if you’re looking for heartwarming, look elsewhere.

Every Christmas is a struggle for me. I have a family that loves it. The Girl will start looking forward to Christmas carols as early as July, and the second Halloween passes, she’s playing them. The Wife spends hours making the house look beautiful and Christmas-y, warm and inviting. The Boy starts throwing out hints for gifts as early as October.

Bauble On Christmas Tree Background by Petr Kratochvil

And then there’s me. I tend to try and shy away from the season as much as possible. Every year it’s a struggle to get me to decorate the outside of the house. It’s not that I hate Christmas, though that’ll always be my pat answer to anyone that asks. No, it’s just that I absolutely want to avoid it with all my soul.

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas. Even when there wasn’t much under it, I didn’t care. It was just a wonderful time full of anticipation and wonder. The world was white, perfect for showing off all those lights and decorations. The smells of the food that would be prepared days in advance would drive me crazy. Family was always stopping by, or we were visiting.

Christmas Tree Lights Effect by David Wagner

Christmas Tree Lights Effect by David Wagner

Maybe this all started the year my mother and step-father broke up. Because it happened Christmas day.

Or maybe it started the year after, when my mother was alone, and none of us had any money for gifts. But still, we were together.

Even if it was then, I should have gotten over all that in the years since, when I got married and had children of my own. And for a time, I must admit, it abated somewhat. It never went away, but it lessened for a while, this desire to avoid it all.

God knows my in-laws make it amazing. My father and mother-in-law are absolutely amazing, and every year, they come over Christmas morning for a big breakfast. Then we all head over to the Wife’s sister’s place where she and her husband put on a ridiculously amazing Christmas dinner. All of the Wife’s family is there, including all our nieces.  There’s always a lot of laughter and fun.

Yet still, for all of that, in the back of my mind, a big part of me just wants to go home and avoid it all.

I love the family I married into. I couldn’t have found a more amazing group of people. They’re funny, supportive and they treat me as their own. And our friends always make it better too. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be the same without the Hickey family. There’s no one like them and I’m thankful for their friendship and love and support every day of the year.

I have other friends that know what I’ve gone through and are always there to talk me through it.

And maybe that’s it.  Maybe it’s the fact that, because my mother has never accepted my wife, she is no longer welcome in my home. Maybe it’s because my brother can’t be trusted with anything. He made the choice a long time ago to not act as a brother would. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really talked to my sister in almost three decades because she made the choice to live in a paranoid wonderland of hate and poverty. Maybe it’s partly due to knowing I have this other group of nieces and nephews…Todd, Tabitha, Ryan, Kelly, Buddy, Genevieve…probably even more that I don’t know about…all these people that I last saw as young children that are now all adults…and I know nothing about them. I haven’t seen any of them in far too long.

My brother and sister I’m done with. My mother I’ll visit at times during the holidays, to be served up the usual helping of guilt and sadness. It’s something I refuse to subject my family to anymore. So I guess I’m part shield, part martyr in that respect. But I do it to protect them. I’m sure the rest of my family has heard a startlingly different view of this and view me as the asshole with a bitch for a wife. I’m past caring about that, to be honest. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned people will think what they want and I’ll have little control over it. The ones who have taken the time to know both myself and my wife know the truth.

Anyway, back to Christmas.

Maybe I’m being selfish. I have all the family that anyone could want. And I feel extremely selfish for wanting someone from my side of the family to treat me that same way, to give me that same courtesy that these other people–people who didn’t know me half as long as my family have–show me. I feel selfish because I already have more than most.

So, as I attend all these Christmas functions, there always seems to be this black hole that sucks and pulls at me. It shouldn’t be there, I shouldn’t give it that power. I know I should turn away from it and look at all I have and how incredibly lucky I am.

But I can’t help feeling like an orphan at this time of year.

oliver_more

So for any of you that know me, please don’t ever shy away from wishing me a Merry Christmas. Just understand that I may not wish it back with the same level of passion. This is the time of the year when those cracks in my own family have the most light shone on them. The time when, at least for me, they become most obvious.

And so this is Christmas.