Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: childhood

Movie Magic & Human Nature

When I was a kid, the movie magic and the theater were the domain of my dad. He’d frequently pick us up, go to Thrifty’s for two candies each, and head to the theater for the latest movie. There’s an anecdote about my active imagination that my dad loves to tell. I’ll try to recreate it but remember that it’s far better when he tells the story.

There was a day we were at the movies and, as was our custom, before the movie started, my brother and I would run down the front of the house to explore that big space in front of the screen but before the seats. “Back in my day” you had to show up to the theater early to get a good seat, so we had plenty of time to kill before the previews started.

This time I came running back with my serious face and sat beside my dad leaving my little brother to explore on his own. My dad asked me what was wrong, and I replied that I was afraid of the monsters. My dad scoffed and reminded me that monsters were only in the movies. I turned my six-year-old face to my dad, wide-eyed and dismayed, “Dad! This IS the movies!”

You can’t argue with that. Movie magic comes with movie monsters!

As I grew up, movies with my dad became more and more rare. Teenagers don’t go to movies with their old parents! But I did keep going with my friends until well into my 20’s. As an adult, they fell out of favor. I’m not sure why. It may have simply been the expense of taking the whole family.

Over the past five years, I began to rediscover movie going and was reminded of how much I love the experience…only to have it whisked away by the “pandemic” but theaters are open again and this past weekend a friend asked if I wanted to go.

At first, I jumped at the chance, then I looked at the offerings and wasn’t impressed. There weren’t many movies to choose from and they all seemed lame. But it has been blazing hot this summer and sitting inside a cool, dark theater sounded so nice. We picked a comedy and decided to go on Saturday.

Then I started thinking. Would it be crowded early on a Saturday afternoon? I don’t want to be surrounded by people during normal times, and even more so now. Would there we weird ass restrictions that make me uncomfortable? I’d rather just stay home than jump through hoops so that everyone FEELS safe and really isn’t. Human behavior can make me crazy sometimes.

I decided I was being ridiculous, and it would be better to go out and experience the world, take notes, and make observations in person, than to stay at home and speculate.

I’m glad I did, because people are so damn weird and movie magic is real.

We purchased our tickets online about an hour before the movie started. It’s the kind of theater where you pick your specific seats when you purchase the ticket. I thought that was pretty cool BCB but now it’s even cooler. They can separate people before they get in the theater, put empty seats between groups, because we’re all too collectively dumb to do so for ourselves (insert eyeroll).

When we bought the tickets, we were the first to do so. That was weird. I assumed more people would be buying tickets just before the movie and the theater would be fairly full. I mean, it’s Saturday and over 100 degrees outside…again. I messed up my timing (again) and got to the theater five minutes before showtime to find the theater empty but for one other family, who had bought tickets for seats directly in front of us.

Think about that for a moment. Those people looked at the seat chart, saw that only two other seats in the whole theater were already taken, and selected the seats directly in front of those. Really?!

With the way they build theaters now, sightlines are not a problem. And maybe you’re not that worried about strangers breathing and eating and talking less than three feet above and behind you because you’re vaccinated. But what about personal space and privacy? I get it if the theater is full and those are the only seats available, but the whole theater was empty. Why would you CHOOSE to be that close to other people?

Humans are so strange. I sat down in those seats because I those are the assigned seats I bought, but within a couple minutes the previews started, no one else was coming, so we moved up a couple rows. I laughed in my head the whole time thinking about my Dad and how he always complains that people choose the seat directly in front of you no matter how empty the theater is. I couldn’t wait to tell him.

Movie magic strikes again!
Image from Wikipedia

As a side note, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is hilarious. I chose that movie purely by the title and the genre. I assumed it would be as stupid as the title, but it was inside and air-conditioned, so what the hell! I was pleasantly surprised, laughed the whole time, and loved every minute of it.

There was something else interesting that was thinking about while I was at the movies and for several hours after. Things are changing…duh…but not necessarily in a bad way.

I had stopped going to the movies mostly because the hassle of going, the cost, being among a large group of people that (from the story above) seem to have no sense of manners when it comes to movie etiquette. Screaming kids watching clearly inappropriate movies, sick people over my shoulder, talking people, etc. Why spend that much on a movie when I can sit a home and watch them on my big screen with a beer and chips? The ability to pause when I have to go to the bathroom? Yes, please!

Moving my watching time to earlier in the day, before 2pm, helped a tremendous amount. Why is it that no one goes to the movies at 11am or 1pm? We had been going on Christmas day for the latest release of Star Wars and walking into an empty theater for years. Walking out, we’d see a long line of people waiting for the late afternoon showings. Crazy.

I was bored with the selection of movies at one point. It seemed there were only action movies and coarse and crude comedies. I was so completely disappointed with first Hobbit movie, that I never went back to see the next one. There’s no dialog, no depth of meaning or character, just chase, chase, explode, and kill. It’s exhausting. And loud.

We chose to stay home to watch movies instead and I love the new streaming movies. There are so many new limited series shows based on books, history, etc. It’s awesome. Traditional movies have to be made to fit a niche: a time frame people can sit through in one stint and that a large swath of people will watch. A two-to-three-hour movie has to leave a lot of details out to get the story told. And it has to be made so that as many people as possible will watch to be profitable, so it’s catered the lowest common denominator.

It’s expensive for a theater to show a movie, so they need as many people there as possible. Streaming movies are cheaper to distribute, so they can be made for a smaller market. Limited series shows based on books or history, can be as long as they want. And now we have movies that cater to a very specific audience. It’s awesome.

But something is missing for me. Where’s the movie magic?

When The Force Awakens came out, something strange happened to me. This was the first movie I’d seen in a theater in years. When those yellow words started scrolling up the screen and the music began, I got a chill. I could feel the energy around me. And when the whole theater gasped in excitement to relive old memories and see the continuation of a story that we had all grown up with…it was movie magic. A collective memory, we were all connected emotionally. It felt…primal. I’m tearing up just writing about it.

The best part of that movie was the fact that we were all sitting there watching it together. Like watching your favorite band perform live or a live performance of a play, we are experiencing something together and for a moment we had a bond with our fellow humans. It was weird.

Right now, I’m reading “The Righteous Mind” and he’s talking about humans and how their evolved edge over all the other animals is their ability to work together, to trust each other (as in The Rational Optimist), and to bond into large groups of non-family. This is what has made us thrive and spread out over the world, to master our environment, and create technology that makes us fatter and happier than any other species. Call me crazy, but I think the movie magic is an extension of that.

I remember huge movie houses when I was a kid, packed full, shoulder to shoulder with little leg room, to watch a giant screen. The last movie I saw like that was Jurassic Park at the Cinedome in Anaheim. This movie was HUGE and was touted as having huge sound that had to be “experienced,” so we went there. It was amazing. You could feel those dinosaurs walking and hear them coming up behind you.

Those huge movie theaters are gone, I know, and that’s ok because their replacement is so much more intimate and comfortable. Smaller theaters, with comfortable recliners, tiered up so no one’s view is obstructed. Seats far enough apart that you don’t get kicked in the back by the long-legged dude or coughed on by the squirmy kids behind you. It’s fantastic.

But ticket sales had started to fall BCB, and I hope after being closed for over a year, they don’t continue that trend and theaters close forever.

There’s just something about the collective experience that I had forgotten was so special. The arrival, the popcorn, the finding of your seat. The lights dimming, the previews we watch and then look at each other for a thumbs up or down. The movie itself with the collective laughs, gasps, and painful silences. And then the end: the applause, the standing and stretching, walking from the theater laughing or crying, the looking to other patrons with the “Did you feel that?” look. It’s movie magic.

Were You Allowed to Use Curse Words At Home Growing Up?

In stark contrast to my own children’s early lives, when I was growing up, curse words were not allowed. It didn’t matter how old you were, if your parent or grandparent was around, you’d get smacked for it. If your parent wasn’t around, it was open season. My grandma would smack my mom for bad words as quick as my mom would smack me, but it didn’t stop any of us from using them. The truth is, colorful expletives are useful, right? They express passion. Life just isn’t the same without either. Like I used to my tell my sons, you just have to know your audience to avoid being smacked.

I was probably about ten years old the first time I used a curse word in front of my mother, and I’ll never forget it.

Baking cookies is an excuse to use curse words?
Photo by Pam Menegakis on Unsplash

My mom and I loved to make chocolate chip cookies, and I can still see that kitchen in my mind. The windows, crisscrossed with wooden trim painted white, yellow kitchen curtains over the sink. And that lovely yellow and brown linoleum floor, the avocado green fridge and oven. What year is it? I know you know.

That oven was something special to me. There were two of them stacked one on top of the other in the corner of the kitchen. Next to it was an island with an electric stovetop to match. All in avocado green and chrome. I don’t think I’ve ever had two ovens like that again. Although sometimes I could have really used it!

Making cookies with my mom on a Saturday afternoon sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? It’s like a scene right out of a Hallmark Channel movie. Young, pretty mom with her long brown hair and big glasses, polyester slacks, and blue eye shadow. Honestly, I always thought my mom was the prettiest mom around. She was funny and boisterous, always had lots of friends. I watched her closely and envied a personality that could so easily greet people and make friends.

Most weekends my mom and stepdad had parties with their friends, playing cards and talking well into the night. You’d think I’d look back on it as a bad time, my parents were distracted partying with their friends and not taking care of us, but it didn’t feel like that to me. I was always enamored with them. I wondered what they were talking and laughing so loud about and would sneak out of my room, long after I was supposed to be asleep, creep down the hall toward the living room and listen. It sounded like fun, grown up fun that I wanted to be a part of.

Sometimes my mom would let me help mix and serve drinks before I went to bed. I felt so grown up. But after bedtime, I wasn’t supposed to come out of my room. I was too old to need my mom in the middle of the night. If got caught in the hall, I just said I was going to the bathroom or feign sleepwalking and my mom would just turn me toward my room and tell me to go back to bed.

I’d reluctantly return, feeling left out of all the fun. I climbed back in my twin bed, dressed in my long, little girl nightgown and lay there wondering what could possibly be so funny. I hear my stepdad singing silly songs, my mom groaning about putting down the wrong card, her friends picking teams for the next round of spades. It seemed like a grown-up mystery.

But Saturday mornings were for fun and I looked forward to it every week. We’d bake sweet bread and cookies mostly. Chocolate chip cookies were my personal favorite, not only because I loved them, but everyone else did too and we’d race to see who could eat the most. With four people living in the house and friends coming for cards in the evening, we had to make a lot of cookies to keep up with demand.

My job was to read the recipe and get out all the things we would need. I’d get the recipe card out of the metal paisley covered recipe box and lay it down on the counter. My grandma wrote this one out (off of a Nestle chocolate chip package I later learned). Her perfectly feminine cursive always impressed me. The delicate, evenly formed, precise loops. The gentle pressure of the pen. The clear lettering with no flourishes. It was serious and concise writing. Getting work done writing. Just like my grandma. Gentle yet serious. Hard but very loving. She didn’t need to get angry about anything. She didn’t need to scold, much. We all just felt compelled by her strength of character to behave.

I can recognize her handwriting the moment I see it and still have a few of those cards tucked away in that same metal box.

Setting the plastic wrapped card on the counter, I started to read it aloud: eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, flour. I’d get everything out and place it on the counter next to the recipe. I’d get the bowls, the big one and small one. The measuring spoons and cups. And place them on the counter too. Then I’d watch my mom go into action.

While she got the mixer out and plugged it in, she’d ask me to help by measuring the flour, salt, and baking powder into the small bowl. She’d put the butter and vanilla in the big bowl and start whipping it with the mixer. As she softened the butter, I would ask questions like, “Can I taste it now?” and hear, “Not yet.” At least a dozen times.

I’d pour in the sugars as she kept whipping the butter, and then the eggs, one at a time. When it was soft and fluffy, the beaters stopped, I got a chance to stick my finger in the mixture and taste it as she cleaned off the beaters. She would turn to see me licking my finger and scowl at me. “Not yet silly!” and I’d laugh.

My Mom would take the big bowl into her arms and I would slowly add the flour mixture to it as she stirred, one scoop at a time until the cookie dough was good and thick. Setting the bowl down to get the chocolate chips, I’d reach in a grab a pinch of dough. “There won’t be any left to bake if you keep doing that.” She’d admonish me, laughing at my antics. “Tastes like cookies!” I’d squeal.

Two scoops of chocolate chips went in next, minus the ones I stole when my mom wasn’t looking. I’d beg to be let to help stir them in only to give up seconds later and let her finish.

The big cookie sheet came out next, discolored and warped with age. Set out on the counter, it was my job to fill them with cookie dough balls! After having my own children “help” me in the kitchen, I have a better picture of what my work looked like to my Mom. Irregular shaped ball of dough in various sizes, scattered across the cookie sheet!

“All done?”

“Yep.”

And she’d open the oven, slide the sheet of deliciousness in and set the timer. Then we’d clean up a bit, putting away the ingredients and washing off the utensils.

It felt like forever had passed and I was a least a year older when the timer bell rang from the kitchen windowsill. Yes! Cookie time!

My mom had her hands in the sink, up to her elbows in soapy water. “Can you use the hot pad and get those out yourself?”

She couldn’t be talking to me. I looked at her incredulously. “You’re big enough. Be careful though. Don’t burn yourself.”

To a kid, being entrusted with any responsibility, any task usually relegated to adults, was a huge step up in life. The moment an adult talked to you as if you were their helper and not someone in the way, you felt taller and more noble. Someone had opened the door and said “Welcome!”

I tentatively picked up the hot pad glove and put it on. “Hurry up, sweetheart. They’ll burn. Careful. The edge is hot too.”

I opened the oven, reached toward the pan of deliciously brown cookies, caught hold of the edge and began to pull them out oh so carefully. As I did, my arm brushed against the side of the oven and I instinctively jerked my arm back, dropping the cookie sheet onto to the open oven door, yelping, “Shit!”

I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my Mom. I had startled her, and she came running over to help.

“Are you ok?” pulling my arm out to see the damage.

“Yes.” I said, with tears and not a little bit of fear.

She pulled my face up to look at her, “Don’t worry. Shit is exactly right. I would have said a lot worse.” Kissing me on my forehead, “Go put some cold water on it.”

The relationship between my Mom and I changed that day, all because of the use of curse words. She was no longer just my Mom, the dinner maker, keeper of the rules, and laundry washer. She was my friend. My mom was a person, just like me.

We finished baking several sheets of cookies without further burns. Many pinches of dough were stolen between sets. And once they were all done baking, we got a big glass of milk and set to making ourselves sick eating what was left with the help of my little brother and stepdad.

Would You Want to Come Back for a Day?

Book quote on desert background.

“Theaters traditionally always closed for at least one day a week, leaving on the ghostlight, to appease the ghosts. To allow them one day on the stage to perform their acts. To live and love and hate and triumph on the stage like the living.”

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

The ghostlight allows the dead to come back for a day.

I grew up in the theater, mostly backstage. It started in elementary school with school musicals. I remember working so hard on learning to sing songs from Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My mom made my costumes, and I was proud of those shows and myself for being up there.

In junior high school, I took acting lessons after school and, because I felt like I could not dance to save my life, I joined the “drill team” for more movement practice. I vaguely remember not wanting to continue, but my mom wouldn’t let me quit. I’ve always been shy, self-conscious. My mom thought those classes would help me and I remember being angry and fighting her about it.

Here’s a weird thought though, did I fight with her about them? I’m not sure about memory anymore. I think we build up bigger stories on what little we actually remember about our lives. The farther back you go, the bigger the story.

I continued theater in high school, acting when I absolutely couldn’t get out of it (and badly), and eventually moving backstage to do tech work; designing and building sets and running the shows as the stage manager. Those classes propelled me forward into university as a theater major, possibly the least useful Bachelor of Arts degree ever created. Luckily, I caught wise during the third semester and dropped out, but I paid a lot of money for that lesson.

I got a job a Knott’s Berry Farm as a stagehand, moved through the ranks there for several years, and then returned to Disneyland as a stage technician. It felt like eons as I went through it. Looking back on those ten years of my adult life…not so much, a blink in time. And all so long ago now, fading into the past.

The ghostlight brought it flooding back.

Theaters are full of superstitions, some based on actual safety issues. Whistling on stage is bad luck, because the riggers above and backstage were usually ship riggers and they signaled each other with whistles. The wrong whistle heard at the wrong moment could get a piece of scenery dropped on you.

Ghostlights are another superstition built around a safety precaution.

The stage is raked down toward the audience and drops off, usually at least three feet at the foot without a warning like a handrail. Past that front edge is typically the orchestra pit, filled with chairs and music stands. So, when the stage is empty and unlit, there is a ghostlight set up; a single bulb on a stand, rolled out to the center of the stage and kept lit just in case someone wanders in and doesn’t realize where they are. It keeps creepers from getting themselves killed and becoming new theater ghosts, which, trust me, we really don’t need.

As a stagehand and a manager, I have been the one to put out the ghostlight many times. It was one of my favorite things to do and I often stood there with it awhile to take a breath. A theater week can be exhausting, six long days of activity. Crews and performers fill the building from top to bottom. And theater people are not low-key or reserved in any way. At the end of the day, and especially at the end of the week, setting that light up and shutting everything else down, was somehow special, comforting. If I could go back in time, I’d take those moments more often and consciously meditate a while.

This story used the “ghostlight” as a transportation device from hell. The “ghosts” of humans can use this device to spend one day back on earth. They used it to finish things they had left behind when they died or visit with the living. They had to return before the light burned out though, or the hounds of hell would come to get them.

It seemed a perfect literary device for such a simple safety precaution, adding more spiritual drama to an already loaded superstition.

If you were stuck on the other side of the veil, aware that the old world existed, would you want to come back for a day? What would you do? Relive a moment, visit a relative, or comfort a friend? Would you have a mission you’d want to complete, some unfinished business?

Interesting idea, isn’t it?


Want to read more posts related to the book, “The Library of the Unwritten?”

Do We have the Ability to Choose the Meaning of Our Life Story?

Unintentional Lessons From Childhood

“She raised her hand when she felt like talking and didn’t think that was notable until Mr. Behan told her parents in the parent-teacher conference that he was glad to see a girl raising her hand.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

As I read any book, I make notes. I underline perfect sentences, things that start me thinking, and sweet “ah-ha” moments. After I finish reading the book, I go back through and look at my notes, pulling out things that trigger a reaction in me. Sometimes, just days after I’ve finished reading, I can’t remember why I marked a certain passage. Maybe it struck me but didn’t stick? It must not have been that important, a passing idea.

Sometimes a sentence jumps out at me, I’m brought to some revelation about my current situation, or it reminds me of my childhood, and I write about that. This passage did both!

I’m not sure if you know this, but I live in the desert. The rural part, not the city part. I’m not totally in the middle of nowhere. I can drive into town any day of the week. I can drive into the city, and I often do. It’s not that I’m physically that isolated, but the town is small, and it is the desert. People tend to move here because they like being alone. We come together as a community for special occasions, like the 4th of July or a music festival. We complain about “traffic” and crowded parking lots when there are more than a few cars nearby. Unless you are part of some sub-group, it’s not the hub of social activity.

So…what’s your point, Michelle?

I know, I’m getting to that!

Let’s see…summed up… I’ve found myself a bit hungry for social interaction lately.

Since my boys have flown the nest, I’ve been at a loss about how to find a new social circle. How do I meet new people now? BC (before children) I met people at work. With kids, it was playgroups and then homeschool events. I started to get involved in our local community center but with the shutdowns all of that is on hiatus until further notice.

So, what do I do? I looked to the internet, Facebook groups be precise. I found a few that looked promising and joined. That was the easy part. Then, when I started scrolling through the posts, I noticed that people were posting an introduction, a picture and some description of themselves and why they were there. I read them, found them interesting…but could not bring to post one myself, even though I longed to do so. I literally broke into a cold sweat just thinking about what I would write. Why?

Then I saw this underlined in my book and it dawned on me. It’s like raising my hand in class. I never could do it. Even as an adult, in any kind of classroom like situation, an office meeting, anything, I couldn’t raise my hand to say something no matter how much I wanted to. I’d sit there, heart racing, mind trying to put together just the right words to express my thoughts…and do nothing. I have the answer! I have something important to add! I can help with that! But nothing could get me to raise my hand.

Why? Because raising your hand draws attention to yourself, drawing attention to yourself if not lady-like or attractive. And that is the worst crime of all. Where in the world did I get that idea? I assume I got that message from my mother’s family growing up. I can hear their words like family mantras, “don’t make a scene,” “don’t be ugly,” “keep your voice down,” etc. There was no evil scheme to keep a child down, it was just the way they were raised, so they passed those social and cultural rules on to me.

The women in my father’s family were different. They were loud, brash, and wild. Since my parents divorced when I was very young, and back then fathers didn’t get 50/50 custody of their kids, I didn’t see them often. I mostly saw them on holidays when they were at their most boisterous. Recently, I’ve dreamt about being more like what I perceived them to be: confident, proud, intelligent, unrestrained.

So here I am, 47 and looking for new friends on the internet. I joined a group of like-minded people in an attempt to socialize…and I’m paralyzed with fear at the idea of introducing myself, even from behind a screen. What the hell?! I need to get over this right quick. There’s a huge difference between running into a room, doing crazy things, screaming “Look at me!” and contributing to a group social dynamic.

Our children learn some strange lessons, ones we didn’t mean to teach them at all. I wonder what unintentional lessons my children learned from me.

The “Black People”: A Camping Story

boys on trail

We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.

The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.

We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.

This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.

Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.

We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.

We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.

At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.

We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.

A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.

When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.

I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.

“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.

Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.

“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.

“Jake.”

“Jake!”

He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.

“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.

“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”

Without looking away, “The black people.”

I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”

“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.

“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.

“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”

A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.

“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.

Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.

Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.

Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.

“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.

The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.

Small Experiences Can Change Everything

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Funny the things that you remember so clearly from childhood. It was more than 40 years ago and I can still hear those words and see that small mouse-faced girl with the short-cropped brown hair. I don’t remember her name, but I can see the Kindergarten classroom and hear the snide tone of her voice. It’s my recurring nightmare to this day and a moment that shaped my life.

It was career week at my elementary school in 1978 and the assignment for Monday was to come dressed as one of our parents. If we didn’t already know, we were supposed to ask our parents where they worked and what they did at their job, and then come to school dressed as they would at work, stand up in front of the class and tell everyone about what we had learned about our parent’s jobs.

I went home with this assignment for career week full of excitement. I already knew what my Mom and my stepdad did for work. My stepdad, I called him my Ken, was a delivery driver. He drove a big truck delivering new washers and sofas to people’s houses. It was exciting for my brother and me when he would let us play in the back of the truck or pay us $5 to rub hard wax all over the wooden floor so that the big boxes would slide easily across it, but it didn’t seem to my five-year-old mind, like something exciting to tell my classmates about or to come to school dressed in jeans and a work shirt like him. My Dad did a similar job, delivering for drug stores, and although we always loved being picked up from school in his work truck and sliding around the back in crates while he drove us the one block to his house from school, I didn’t want to wear just plain clothes to school.

Yes, it was all about the clothes! I wanted to wear a costume! I wanted people in class to be impressed!

By the next day, my thoughts were focused on my mom. She worked at a bank and dressed up fancy (to my five-year-old senses) every day. She wore nice skirts and blouses, jackets and high heels. She always did her hair up nice and wore makeup. I thought she was the prettiest person in the world. I wanted to come to school dressed just like her!

I don’t remember if I worked this out with my mom. I know we were supposed to ask our parents about their work and get their help dressing as they did, and I’m sure my mom helped me with my hair (and a little makeup), but those specifics are lost to me today. I do remember thinking that I couldn’t wear her clothes because they were way too big, but I could wear my own nicest clothes and curl my hair like hers and that’s exactly what I did.

On the day of the assignment I came to school full of pride. I was wearing a frilly blue dress my mom had got me for a party we had gone to. I had white stockings on and shiny black shoes. My hair was curled, and I had a matching ribbon. And I was thrilled that my mom had let me wear just a little makeup like hers! I walked to school as if I were the queen of the world. I felt gorgeous and soon everyone would know how important and pretty my Mom was when I told them what her job was.

Parents dropping their kids off at school and kids that walked with older brothers and sisters were slowly trickling into the Kinder play area. I was too dressed up to play and waited at the door where we all would line up when the bell rang for class and soon it did. Other kids came running up to the concrete porch area in front of the door to line up behind me and another girl that was talking to me.

Most of the kids in my class were dressed up in crazy outfits that day. One I remember had a white apron on and baggy black pants with a paper hat on his head. His Dad worked at the meat counter at the grocery store. Another girl had her dad’s McDonald’s shirt on like a dress, belted at the waist, hanging almost to her ankles. One boy had on jeans and his dad’s old construction work boots. I had begun to worry. Everyone else was wearing something of their parents, no matter how big the clothes were. I was different.

That’s when I saw her look at me. That tall girl that always seemed like she was angry about something. Her snack wasn’t the right one. Someone took her pencil when it was clearly right on the floor next to her. Strangely, I don’t remember what she was wearing but I remember her walking straight up to me and looking at my dress. She gave that mousy, narrow-eyed look of a kid that’s sure you must be crazy, and said, “What are you supposed to be? Tinkerbell?”

I was instantly mortified. I had interpreted the assignment to dress up “LIKE” a parent. Everyone else took the assignment literally and wore their parent’s clothes.

I honestly can’t remember what my reply was. My memory has two versions. One is probably closer to what happened, and the other is what my older self wishes I had said.

I stammered an answer with tears in my eyes, face flushing red, “My mom dresses up nice to work at the bank.”

The other, more clever answer? “Yes. My Mom works at Disneyland and she IS Tinkerbell.”

It really doesn’t matter what I said, what was important was the “I really screwed up” feeling that stuck with me for the rest of my school life, my whole life if I’m honest. To this day, I am still afraid to stand out.

It’s embarrassing to admit that it still affects me, that I just can’t let it go. There’s no one to blame. She wasn’t a bad person; she was a child. Even as adults, people generally don’t say things to hurt others deliberately. She didn’t mean to cut me down or ruin my life, she just said what she was thinking, and I took it so personally, internalized it so much that it continued to direct my actions my whole life. That’s on me.

Strange to think that one incident can have such a strong impact on a life, but it did in my case. I can’t say that that girl’s remark about my costume choice changed me or if it just accentuated a feeling I already had. I had always been a sensitive and shy kid. Her remark was probably one of hundreds over my lifetime that shaped me. But should they have? Should anyone else’s opinion shape our choices, especially the opinions of people that we don’t really care to impress?

What could I have done differently? How could I have reacted differently? Was there an adult in my life that could have changed how I felt about it? I will never know.

Why did this memory come up? Because I want to go to the Renaissance Faire in the spring and I so desperately want to dress up! And you know what? I’m afraid to! Yes. I’m still afraid to dress up. I’m 46 years old and afraid to dress up and go to an event that is known for its costumed patrons! At what point does one get over these kinds of things?

How can I change this? How do I start doing things because I want to and they make me happy and not worry about what anyone else thinks? I do it in lots of different ways, but not with my clothes. I just can’t bring myself to stand out like that.

Zombie or Treasure

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My Brother and Cousin 1980

The story goes that my Grandpa Roy, my Dad’s Dad, gave me this bear. The oldest picture I have of him is from 1980, but I think I got him before that, probably around 1978 because I remember being around five or six years old when I got him for Christmas.

He was under the tree at my Grandpa’s house in Anaheim, the house with the huge Magnolia tree in the front yard that always seemed to have one flower at the very top. When we came into the house on Christmas Day, I saw him under the tree and secretly hoped he was for me instead of my little brother.

We ate cookies and played with the dogs for what seemed like an eternity. Why do adults make children wait to open presents on holidays? Is it to torture them or teach them patience? All I know is that it’s a practice I gave up the moment I became a parent. In fact, I did it before that. Any time I had the chance to get a gift for a kid, I’d always find some way to let them open it as soon as they saw it much to the dismay of the parents I knew. I just never could see the point of delaying the inevitable and besides, I never couldn’t wait to see their joy when they opened them.

We had finally gathered around my Grandpa’s Christmas tree to exchange and open gifts and I made a bee line to that bear with the big red ribbon around his neck. My Grandpa, that great big man with jet black hair, soft smile, and giant hands, took me in his arms and told me quietly that teddy bears were invented to guard children from nightmares. He explained that this one was a “pot-bellied bear” and was especially good at it. He was trained to sleep all day long so that he could stay up all night and make sure nightmares never came near his friends. I remember taking it very seriously and I named him Edward. He hasn’t spent a night away from me since that day.

As a child, I always had very vivid nightmares. They ranged from vague feelings of abandonment to horribly detailed graphic dreams of death and fear. Dreams have a way of being so terrifying when you’re wrapped in the darkness of a quiet bedroom but seem rather silly when described out loud in the daylight, but I’ll do my best to describe the one recurring nightmare that has always terrified me. It even comes around today from time to time.

I wasn’t sure what triggered it, but I could always tell I’d have this nightmare before I went to sleep. I’d get ready for bed with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Once I was snuggled into my bed, my Mom would come and tuck me in with a kiss and turn off my light and that’s where it would start to snowball into night terrors.

I’d do everything a kid could do to stay awake, talk to my animals, sing to myself, get up for water and a trip to the bathroom. Sometimes I’d even spur myself to walk out into the livingroom and to talk to my mom. I’d ask for a snack or maybe another kiss goodnight.

I never could understand why my parents were so angry and frustrated about my nocturnal wanderings. I swore to myself that when I became a parent, I’d always be understanding about why a kid wouldn’t want to go to sleep. But then once I was a parent myself, I found out it wasn’t that easy. I could easily understand my children’s nighttime fears, but I was so tired myself that it was hard to consistently respond in sympathy. These are the things we learn as we experience life!

After numerous attempts to get out of going to sleep, including sleeping in my little brother’s bed, I’d reluctantly climb back into my single bed, pull my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets up to my neck, put my back against the wall an attempt to keep my eyes open until sunrise.

It was always in vain. Eventually, that nervous feeling would grow and fill my throat and ears. My room walls would fade and my bedroom furniture would push away from the center of the room. I’d find myself walking a circle around the middle of my bedroom floor with my dresser and writing desk growing beside me “Wonderland” style. The stark fear I felt was maddening.

I can’t say what I was afraid of. There was nothing overtly frightening in this dream, just a feeling of dread that overwhelmed me. I’d begin to take a few more steps around my room when the floor in the middle would drop out into darkness and I’d fall into it in slow motion. That’s when the terror would hit me and I’d wake up in my bed shaking. That was the end of it. You’d think I’d sit up the rest of night or call out for my parents, but I never did. After I woke, the fear would be gone. I’d roll over in my bed and go right to sleep wondering what in the world was so wrong.

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Me and My Brother 1985

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Camping 1986

My Grandpa must have been told about these nightmares and had thought to give me the bear in the hope of helping. It worked most nights. Most nights, I’d get into my bed and face the wall, Edward the Bear would face the room, and I’d fall asleep easily. Some nights, though, the nightmares would come back, and I’d wake up and scold him for sleeping on the job. He always looked so remorseful that I forgave him. I’m sure he had perfectly reasonable excuses, though he never tried to explain them to me.

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College Dorm Room 1992

That bear has never left my side. I remember my mother asking me if I’d keep him even when I grew up and got married. I proudly told her I’d never marry anyone that didn’t love Edward as much as me. He’s even went on camping trips with me when I was kid, including “Outdoor Education” camp when I was a sixth grader.

Michelle and Snicker napping 1994

My own apartment 1994

I’m in my forties now and these days I rarely have nightmares like I used to, but sometimes they come back. I’ve learned what triggers them though, anxiety. When events and worries overwhelm me, the nightmares return. I’ve even had that same falling down dream a few times in recent years, but Edward has always been there. I’m a side sleeper and I’ve grown accustomed to having him under my arm for support.

His name was changed from Edward the Bear to Edward T. Bear in my twenties but years later, when my young sons asked what the “T” stood for, I quickly renamed him Tiberius after Captain Kirk. They approved heartily. There was a time when I thought I would share that bear with my boys, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He’s a part of me.

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Sharing With My Baby Boy 2001

The past few years, he’s really started to show his wear. He has no mouth at all any more. His neck is wobbly from all the stuffing he’s lost from holes I sewed up with needle and thread. His ears no longer stand up and his eyes are scratched and dull. I considered putting him up on a shelf instead of sleeping with him under my arm to protect him, but I can’t. Ever since the Toy Story movies, I can’t bear to put him up no matter how threadbare he becomes. I tired to think of a way to reinforce his skin a bit and came up with patches. Every time he gets a hole, I put on a new patch. Each patch is sewn over the side of another patch, since he original fabric is so thin. It’s working. He’s beginning to look like a patchwork quilt.

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Today!

I love that stinky bear. We’ve been through a lot. Growing up. Boyfriends. Break-ups. New jobs. Marriage. Babies. And now my babies growing up. He’s been covered in my tears, listens attentively, and never judges or gives bad advice. It’s crazy, I know, but that bear goes with me when I die. I can’t leave him behind.

 

I saw a post about Tinker Bell this morning and my own bell rung. Imagine Charlie Brown talking to Lucy about phobias. “THAT’S IT!” I love it when I have moments like that. I posted the image and returned to comment, and that’s what led me to this post. Yep…animated fantasy movie characters get my mind going.

Here’s the image.

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Whenever I’m in a bad mood, when I’m feeling a bit grumpy and reactive, a little attention goes a long way. You may not need to change anything, fix anything, teach anything; just give me a little attention. “I know your mad.”, “What’s wrong?”, or even “You’re beautiful.”, will generally fix things with me. It gives me the power to resolve the situation myself. My sons are great at this. When they are doing big things, things teens have to do if they are going to move out into the world as adults, I get scared and sometimes I feel neglected. They sit and hug me, ask me about my fears and objections. They listen. And then they go do what they were going to do anyway. They do take into account my feelings, but I know that ultimately, they will do what they believe is best for them. Personally, I think it is the hardest stage of parenting so far.

But wait there’s more!

One of my friends said she didn’t like Tink, that she thought she was a “jerk.” This was my initial response.

“She’s a jerk because she’s passionate, protective, and independent. She’s beautiful and unsure of herself. Jealous to a fault. She’s small and mighty and fearful of being left behind. Her “meanness” is what you see but her motives…are beautiful. She needs to be loved and she’ll die if she doesn’t get that love. She needs unconditional love, not the kind that only hangs around if she’s sweet and gentle.”

All behavior is a symptom of someone’s feelings. We can’t help the way we feel about things. I’m having a hard time explaining this. I keep writing out the words and backing up. Let me start again.

Behavior is what we do when we feel something. It’s a trained action that starts in childhood. I feel cold and I grab a blanket. It might be someone else’s blanket. You might say, “Hey, that person is a jerk. They stole my blanket!” or you could think, “Why did that person steal my blanket?” That question might lead you to understand that the person was cold and needed to be warm. The only thing they have learned to do is take the first blanket they see.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “This woman is nuts. We can’t condone stealing because someone needs something. That’s anarchy!” I’m not condoning anything. I don’t need to think it’s ok for her to take my blanket because she’s cold, but I can understand and not be angry at that person. I can also lovingly ask why she took it and show compassion so she learns better behavior. There are very few people in this world that deliberately do things just to be mean. Almost everyone wants to be socially accepted and loved.

It could go like this.

“Why did you take my blanket? It belongs to me!”

“I’m cold and need one.”

“Well, so am I. It’s not ok to take things without permission, but I can see why you need one.”

“I need a blanket and you already have one, can afford another one, or I don’t care that you are cold.”

“Let’s see how we can get your own blanket without taking one from me by force.”

And you go off to buy her one of her own, help her find one from a charity, or buy one as a gift because you can and you love the person she is.

You know what she learns? Her needs are important and so are other people’s.

So, what does this have to do with Tinker Bell being a jerk? Tinker Bell is “acting out” as they say. She’s exhibiting nasty behaviors to get what she wants because she has learned no other way. She craves Peter’s attention and now he’s giving it to that damn Wendy. She’s jealous and rightly so, since Wendy wants Peter to leave Neverland and grow up.

There are lots of Tinker Bell’s in our life. Our children, our parents, our friends, our lovers, they all exhibit behavior we are not fond of. My children throw a temper tantrum over not being able to finish a movie before bed. My mother texts me a thousand times about where I’ve been. My friend doesn’t call me back because I forget her birthday. My lover is slamming doors and sulking. They are all symptoms of feelings and needs. What if we decided to look around the behavior and seek out what those needs are instead of punishing the behavior? If we knew what the need was, maybe it’d be easier to understand the behavior and help that loved one find a better way of getting their needs met.

Poor Tink. We see her as beautiful and filled with light. She can fly and make others fly, too! What more could you ask for? But really, she’s like all of us. She’s small and vulnerable and doesn’t know her own power. Peter could help her see that if he weren’t a child himself. Wendy does catch a glimpse of it but maybe she’s just too wrapped up in herself at the moment to help.

There’s so much more. I’d like to read the book again and focus on Tinker Bell’s point of view.

Note to my 24-year-old Self

This is another post from my old blog that I’m bringing over here. I wrote it a little over a year ago. It’s amazing how things are constantly changing.

“What would I tell my 24-year-old self?” That is the question I found close to the end of my “Entrusted” online bible study with Beth Moore. She said she’d tell herself nothing, not because she wouldn’t listen anyway (which was my thought) but because the journey was worth not knowing. Does the journey make the destination that much sweeter?

Would I be the 44-year-old person I am today if I had not lived and learned through the 24-year-old self I was? I don’t think so. I think if I hadn’t lived the way I did, learned from it, changed through it, and moved on, I would be an entirely different person now. I like who I am now. The only thing I would wish for myself is that it hadn’t taken so long, that I hadn’t hurt so many people through the process.

My journals stopped in late 1992, the year I turned 20. I have pictures from that time but they start to be less and less frequent until 1998. Six years. From the year my Mom moved to another state and I was left here, living with a boyfriend until the year I met my husband, and my friends helped me move to my own place. Wow. Such a dark time. I vaguely remembered it until I paged through some pictures and wrote down the events on a time line.

I had met someone, whose name will not be mentioned. He is the only person I actually got rid of any pictures of. I have had loads of boyfriends and they are still friends. I have pictures of them in my albums. I still talk to most of them on Facebook. There is one (maybe two) that I really hurt back then and they have disappeared, but this one had such an ugly effect on my life during those years that I still don’t want to be reminded of it. He took up four years of my life. For four years I must have been one of the most miserable people on earth. I sometimes wonder if anyone around me really knew what was happening. I know a couple did and tried to help, but we were all so young and wrapped up in our own dramas, there was little anyone could do if I wasn’t willing to help myself. I can’t relive those times and write about it, even now, but I wanted to give you the feeling of it in the context of those times as I think of what I would tell my 24-year-old self.

“You are worth so much more than this. Here’s a book about Jesus, a journal, $200 to get started on a journey, and my phone number if you want to talk. You are not trapped or held by anything but your own mind.”

Two things changed my life in 1998. The first was getting the job I had dreamed of for six years. I had a decent income and new friends. The second was that I saw my future husband from the back of a pickup truck at that job. He was standing outside the lunch room, we locked eyes when we saw each other again, just like in the movies. It had been six years since we had seen each other and I had disappeared without a trace. Something began to happen at that moment. That’s when I began to have confidence in myself as a human being.

It didn’t happen all at once. It took years to recover. Only now do I see how far I’ve come. And then that question, “What would you tell your 24-year-old self?” I think I agree with Beth Moore. I wouldn’t tell her a thing. I’d just love her right where she was, knowing she would survive and what she’d become.

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