Thursday, December 29, 2011

This Should NEVER Happen

Tuesday morning, one of the boy's scout leaders lost his 19 year old son in a car accident. Hearing the news felt like a punch in the gut. Any parent, upon hearing such a thing, can't help but to feel it. Even just imagining what they are feeling is worse than anything any parent wants to feel.

And while it's always a surprise, when it's a kid who is responsible and good and hardworking, and who wasn't drinking, it's even moreso. That's how it was when our family went through the same thing.

I met mr b's sister before I met him. She told me all about her family and showed my photos of her kids. In the week that I got to know her before I met him, she already felt like family. So when I met her kids for the first time, I immediately loved them. her daughter (Scabs - I talk about her all the time here) was the same age as me and her son, Ricky, was a few years younger. I was taken by this kid right away. He was different from any 13 year old boy I had ever met. he was polite and respectful and he actually liked spending time with his mother and family.

He was smart and funny and a hard worker. He did well in everything he did. He was an amazing hockey player - even at a young age, he was being watched by scouts. He and a friend started a band and got themselves gigs immediately. When he was 15, he knew he wanted to have a truck when he was able to drive, so he got a job. He worked and saved every penny and by the time he turned 16, he had enough to buy a beautiful truck. Unfortunately, it was a manual transmission, which he hadn't learned to drive yet. I still laugh at the memory of him calling me and asking if I could go with him and his mom to drive the truck home (since his mom & sister didn't know how, either).

We brought the truck home that night and he asked if I would take him to the zoo parking lot & teach him to drive it (they lived just up the road). After eating dinner, I was tired, it was dark, and I really didn't feel like going, but he flashed me his beautiful eyes & smile and I couldn't resist. We headed out and in a very short time, he was able to drive. I am so glad I took him that night.

He loved that truck and he was increwdibly responsible with it. He took great care of it and never asked his mom for gas money - he earned it himself. He drove safely and he ALWAYS wore his seatbelt. Until the day he didn't. he wasn't driving that day, his friend was. We'll never know why he didn't buckle up. His friend was driving fast - not crazy fast, but too fast for the curvy neighborhood road they were on - I don't think it was intentional, but a common new-driver's mistake. And when they lost control, his friend got banged around a little. but Ricky was thrown from the car. He landed in someone's front yard and that's where the beautiful light behind those beautiful eyes went out. That's when the light behind his mother's eyes went out.

I still remember the call. I was at work & my roommate called to say that my sisters-in-law had been calling all morning and that it sounded urgent. I immediately thought about mr b's aging mother - she hadn't been well. But I called sister after sister and no one was home. I finally reached one SIL's husband and I can still remember what he said word-for-word. I can still - 19 1/2 years later - "Oh man - I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there was a car accident and appretnly little Ricky was killed." I still remember the inhuman sound that came out of me. I remember falling to the ground. I don't remember going home - I know someone drove me, but I don't remember who. And worst of all, I remember having to tell mr b. He didn't want to believe it. No one did, but it was true.

The next week was a blur. It was the worst week of all of our lives. Because we never thought it could happen to us. Especially not to him. He was smart and kind and good and most of all - responsible. Just like the 19 year old who it happened to on Tuesday. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt either.

There's nothing anyone can do or say to make sense of this. All I can do is keep trying to instill the importance of wearing a seatbelt to my kids. They get sick of it. I hear "I know, Mom!" again and again. But they don't know. They don't know what it feels like for a parent to have their heart ripped from their body - to lose their will to live. But I have seen it firsthand - people I know and care about have lived it. So I keep telling my kids over and over until I'm blue in the face. I'll tell your kids, too. And another kids in earshot. Don't assume because your kid is responsible when you are around that they are always that way. Drive them crazy if you have to. Because crazy and alive is OK.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Small Town (and Big City) Magic

Growing up, we never ventured into the city (except for an occasional trip to the zoo or museum, but never downtown). We never had to – we had everything we needed in my small town. We had a large discount store (Fisher’s Big Wheel) and three department stores - one large chain (Montgomery Wards), and two smaller, independent department stores (which were part of smaller chains), which were awesome – multiple floors of stuff to buy, old fashioned elevators, and free gift wrapping. We had tons of shoe stores – one even had a wooden, pedal-driven merry-go-round you could ride while your parents shopped. We had boutiques that catered to women, and men, and kids. We had card shops, gift shops, and a record store where you could listen to 45s before buying them*.

We had a big 5 &10 (GC Murphy’s, but everyone called it the 5 & 10) that was two floors – we’d head downstairs to buy angora to wrap our boyfriends class ring and then head upstairs to eat lunch in the restaurant (best hot dogs ever). We had grocery stores and small markets in just about every corner. We had a book store, we had photo studios, and coffee shops, and jewelry stores.

We had two (TWO!) movie theaters, and another in a nearby town (in fact, our town was home to one of the first movie theatres in the country). We had our very own radio station (WESA). We had more restaurants than you can shake a stick at – everything from little places like Isaly’s, to fast food (as it was then) like Winky’s & Pickle Barrel, to nice, fancy places, to the “buffeteria” at Montgomery Wards (where my grandma worked). We had several pharmacies – back in the day when pharmacists were chemists & actually made stuff. One of them had a real, honest to goodness soda fountain where you could get vanilla cokes and chocolate malts. The parades & light-up night brought people from all over – they were that good.

But sadly, those things are all long gone – what the onset of shopping malls didn’t kill, the downfall of the steel industry finished off (or vice versa). So when I moved to the city, I was enthralled by downtown. I spent many, MANY days wandering around, shopping, eating, seeing the sights. Pittsburgh was magical to me. When I started working full time, I used to head to Kaufmann’s department store on my lunch hours, sometimes to shop, but mostly just to wander around or sit in the café & read.

So after we moved back to my small town to raise our family, I made a point of taking my kids to the city as much as possible, so they could experience that magic. And Kaufmann’s was always one of our destinations – especially at Christmas. Seeing the beautiful window displays & wandering around the Christmas floor became some of our favorite activities. This year was no exception.

But a few years ago, Kaufmann’s was taken over by Macy’s, and slowly, over time, our beautiful, local gem of a department store has turned into a huge, cookie cutter conglomerate store. Instead of 11 floors to shop in, there are 6. The candy counter is gone. The spa, and café, and some of the restaurants are gone. The Christmas floor is now the Christmas Teeny Tiny Patch of Carpet That Has Less Stuff Than The Mall Macy’s. Santa’s Workshop (where kids can Christmas shop) is still there, but it’s smaller and far less personal. And the windows! Oh man. What used to be a beautiful display, with a theme across all the glittering, sparkling, animated, breathtaking windows is now the most half-assed, cheap-looking, sad little excuse for a window display I have ever seen. I’ve seen nicer in your windows. It was a huge disappointment.

I’m happy to report, however, that while Macy’s was disappointing, downtown Pittsburgh in general was still magical. We missed out on the carriage ride (despite getting there early, they were already long sold out), but we did get to ride the trolley. Emily took advantage of the free balloon animals & face-painting**, we had a delicious lunch at Las Velas, we saw lots of decorations and lights. And best of all, my girl and I went ice skating with Santa and sang Christmas carols at the top of our lungs. All in all, it was a good day and I can’t wait to do it again.

*If you read that sentence and thought a what store? Listen to what?, then get off my lawn! Whippersnappers.

**Emily waited patiently in line, and was getting very excited to have her turn after the two sisters in front of her. And when the second sister was done, she headed to the chair, only to be told that she would have to wait a little longer, because those sisters’ mother wanted to get her face painted. Don’t get me wrong – everyone has a right to do what they want. And there is nothing wrong with an adult doing something fun and childlike now and then. But when it is being offered free to kids and there are 15-20 of those kids waiting in line, perhaps mom could find some other childlike thing to do instead of adding wait time to the excited, impatient children. Just a thought.

Facepaint (I think she sees it as a legal form of makeup):


Our beautiful city:

Unrelated to anything above - Christmas Dog:

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Crisis of Faith, Christmas Style

I’ve been having a sort of crisis of faith for a while now. Long story short, I grew up going to church (with my aunt- my parents never went, which makes it super funny when my mom starts nagging me about taking the kids to church, claiming, “You always went to church!” and accusing me of being disrespectful to her non-churchgoing ass. Good times.) Anyway, the point is, I miss the community of church, I miss the fellowship, I miss the spirituality, and I want to find a church where I feel at home. Growing up, I had that – I made friends and performed in pageants and sang in the choir and gave the children’s sermon.

Then, when I was on my own in the city, I found a new church that was even better – welcoming and friendly and community & service oriented. But when I moved back to small town USA, I ended up back in the church I grew up in. And over the years the congregation started to wane, growing older, until no kids’ services were available anymore. No nursery or Sunday school or junior church. And suddenly, going to church with kids wasn’t easy anymore. Eventually I stopped.

And as much as I want to find a place like that again, I find it hard to get past the fact that churches are so often the least Christian places around. Haven’t seen that side of it? Try walking into a new church in a small town. And good luck finding a seat that Marjorie So and So hasn’t been sitting in for 40 years.

I hate that a place that represents all that is good and loving and welcoming is often the place we are most judged. Judged for what we are wearing or how much we give or if our kids can sit still. And instead of telling me I’m welcome in their house of worship, I find that they would rather tell me other things.

They want to tell me who to vote for.

They want to tell me what to do with my body.

They want to tell my friends they are an abomination and don’t deserve rights.

They want to tell me that science is wrong.

They want to tell me all the reasons why their way is the only way.

And the more they want to tell me what to do, the more I want to do the opposite.

Now that it is the Christmas season, it will only get worse. This is the time of year when , many people (churchgoers and not) decide to start singing their annual “Keep Christ in Christmas” jingle far and wide. And I agree – I do. Despite the fact that most of the traditions of Christmas began as pagan rituals, the point of Christmas is a Christian one – the birth of Jesus. So without Christ, you have no Christmas.

And I agree that we go overboard with political correctness, calling them Holiday trees instead of Christmas trees and the like. But that’s where my opinions and those of a lot of other folks differ. So many take it further – this is a Christian country, they say. If you don’t like it, you can leave, they cry. Pretty soon, Christianity = patriotism and anyone who doesn’t agree is a communist America-hater, terrorist sympathizer. And it’s all because Jesus isn’t allowed in the schools anymore! GOD BLESS AMERICA!

And then I – and all the people out there like me, who feel the same way – go running screaming in the other direction, away from the thing I just moments ago was longing for! I find myself arguing the opposite side of what I believe, playing devil’s advocate (Devil! One Nation UNDER GOD!), when I don’t even want to!

It’s funny how the only thing that seems to be standing between me and religion is religion.

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