Friday, August 26, 2011

Let's Hear it for the Dolls! or From Nicole Elise to...Emma?

If you are of the female persuasion and you grew up sometime in the early 70's to mid 80s, you will recognize the name "Xavier Roberts."  Yeah, you know it.  Creator of the beloved Cabbage Patch Doll.

Remember when they first came out in the stores?  Packaged in the box with the clear front, each doll was soft, with dimpled knees and elbows just like a "real" baby.  And each came with  adoption papers, which we excitedly filled out and mailed in, and then a few weeks later we received in the mail our formal adoption certificate.  Each doll came with a given first and middle name.  This was unique to our times, too.  I'm sure our mothers were thinking "What happened to asking kids to use their imagination? To naming their own doll?"  But us girls, we loved the idea that our baby already had a name.  It made the adoption that much more real to us.  Although, speaking of names...where in the world did they come up with some of these names?  My baby's name was "Nicole Elise" - not a name I would have chosen, but nevertheless, I stated it proudly whenever I was asked (probably garnered some strange looks in the process).

My best friend, Katie, and I both had CPK dolls (her baby's name was Lynette - see what I mean?).  Anyway, we used to bike to each other's house with our doll in the basket attached to the handlebars.  And then we'd ride up to the 7-11 together to buy baby food and diapers for our dolls.  Really.  We still get a good laugh out of this memory.

But I digress.  A few days ago, my daughter came across a picture of me with my Cabbage Patch Doll...

We found the baby for her, matted hair and all, and it now resides happily - albeit uncomfortably crowded - in my old doll crib with a half dozen other dolls.  They're a close knit group.

Well, those were the days.  Everyone had a Cabbage Patch Kid.

But I digress, it's a new day.  My daughter is 6 years old today, and her big birthday wish this year (well, really for the last three years) is for an American Girl Doll.  Julie Albright, to be exact.  Long, long, straight blond hair, hippie braid down the side, bell bottoms and a rope belt.

 Ella has finally gotten her wish.
(picture removed)

She is thinking of naming her "Emma."

What was your favorite baby doll's name? And if you had one, can you remember your Cabbage Patch Kid's given name?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On this night, 2005...

Allow me to take you back to this night, August 25th, in the year 2005.  I am fat, with a capital HUGE.  Nine months pregnant, I have been to the hospital three times already with "false" labor.  Let me tell you something about "false" labor.  It doesn't FEEL "false."  And having been through childbirth twice before, I do know what it feels like.  But this little girl...she is a stubborn one (she comes by it quite naturally).

So, my due date is 2 days away.  Having had my first child 3 days early, and my second child 3 WEEKS early, this feels miserably late to me.  I am tired.  I am round.  My boobs are hitting me in the chin, and my bladder is dragging the ground like an orangutan's knuckles.

My husband has just arrived home from work, and taking pity on his poor, bloated wife (or realizing that any attempt to ask me for dinner could result in his losing a testicle), he offered to take me and our boys out for pizza.  Pizza!  I feel instantly better.   We gather the boys and head off to Fortel's.  Not yet out of the subdivision, my stomach cramps up.  Not again, I think.  I'll just ignore it.

I ignore it all the way to Fortel's Pizza Den.  My husband stops at an ATM down the street from the restaurant for cash.  While he punches at the buttons on the machine, I groan out loud at the pain that has tightened my bulging belly.  "Mom?" my oldest son asks from the backseat, "are you okay?"
My husband turns his head to look at me, and I simultaneously grunt "ummm, yeah, I'm good," and give him a wide-eyed look.  He urges me to go ahead and call the doctor.  I do.

"Dr. Pearse?" I say between breaths, "I'm having some labor pains again."  He asks me a few questions, as my husband pulls the car into the lot and parks in front of Fortel's.  The boys, 8 and 5, wait patiently, listening to my end of the conversation.  "Go ahead and head into the hospital," he says.
"Yeah, right." I hear myself bark at him, "so you can send me home a fourth time?  I don't thinks so."

He's determined by the way I'm talking and breathing that this pain is real, but I'm having no part of it.
He urges me one last time, "Beth.  Really, you need to go.  How far away are you?"
I give in a little with the next crushing pain, my hand squeezing the blood out of my husband's forearm.

"Okay, damn it," I tell him, "but I am leaving that hospital with a baby - I don't care if I have to steal it from the damn nursery!"

Gratefully, he ignored my threat and told me he'd see me soon.  I didn't get Fortel's pizza that night.  But at exactly 1am on August 26th, Ella Lee was born.  She was beautiful.  And quite bald.

I'd always wanted to have three kids.  And was convinced that I'd be happy with three boys.  In fact, I was terrified of having a girl.  All of my friends with boys shuddered at the thought of raising a girl.  If you're one of us, you know why.  We can be a bit...difficult at times (okay, if you're not one of us, chances are you've had a scary encounter or two.  We feel ya.).

But I digress.  The moment the doctor placed that baby girl in my arms, I was so in love.  She has brought so much joy and happiness, so much laughter and love into all of our lives.  I'm thankful every day for her.

Happy birthday baby girl.  Can not believe you are 6 years old!

                 Time flies!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bus Drivers...a ride down memory lane

My Ella is preparing for Kindgerten. Last week, she attended "bus safety" at her new school.

It brought back some memories.

Back when I was growing up, the Catholic school had busses. I rode that damn bus from the time we moved to St. Louis (I was in the first grade) all the way through the end of 8th grade.

Let me give you a little history about my school bus. It was yellow, of course. This is a given. No seatbelts (please!), we had two bus drivers throughout all those years. Don, who was also the school maintenance man. A nice hippie of a guy with long hair, kind eyes and an easy manner. And Mr. Thomas, an older gentleman (and the grandfather of two of my good friends; twins MaryAnn and Michelle). Other than his grandkids, Mr. Thomas loved one thing...his cigars. He used to smoke 'em while he'd wait for that bell to ring at the end of the school day. And during the coldest months, those little rectangular windows would be all the way up, save for one, which he cracked to let the smoke out. Needless to say, it was not an effective outlet for all that carbon monoxide.

Back then, the Catholic schools separated boys and girls for everything - not just the bathroom breaks. We ate lunch at different tables, had separate gym classes, separate lines in which to walk to and from music class, rows in church...

But I digress. We even had a "boys' side" and "girls' side" on the bus. St. Joseph's elementary was damn sure not going to risk the potentially sinful outcome of the two sexes coming together in any way, shape or form (we saved that for high school).

A quick walk down memory lane to share with you the (rather innocent) story of how we used to torture poor Mr. Thomas...

Now, the way busses work (if you aren't privy to this knowledge already), is that the older kids sit in the back. So, Kg little ones sit in the very front of the bus, and we work our way back to the 8th grade hoods in the very back. In about the 5th grade, my friend Angie, and I decide that we don't much care for being relegated to the girls' side. The boys' side sure looked a lot more fun. So, here we are, about halfway back, on the right (girls') side, sharing a bench seat.
Above the driver's seat was a long, rectangular mirror, which Mr. Thomas took full use of to glance back at his charges every few minutes - just to make sure we were all behaving as good, Catholic schoolchildren should.

So, much like detainees will wait until the guard has just crossed their path before making a run for it, we wait for him to glance back at us. When he does, we are sitting politely, smiling angelically, hands folded in our jumper-clad laps. As soon as his eyes move back to the road....

We dash to the boys' side. "Hey! Move over! Whadaya think you're doin'?"

SHhhhhh! We say.

Then, just as angelically, we pop our heads up, sit quietly, smile politely straight ahead.

Mr. Thomas takes another quick glance in his mirror, looks back at the road, and...

We dash back to the girls' side.

He does a double take. Glaring at us now, sitting properly on the girls' side.

We do this several more times, before he realizes that he's not losing his mind, and that these two little girls might just be trouble makers.

We are sent to the Principal's office.

Good times.

Truly, this is about as "bad" as I behaved (at school, anyway).

Ella will be riding the school bus for the first time next Tuesday. And while there will be no boys' side/girls' side on her bus, I'm sure she'll make just as many memories. Meanwhile, I'll be trying to keep my eyes dry as I load her onto the bus for the first time. I may still be standing in the same spot - just waiting - when she is returned to me at the end of the day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Andre Dubus: Happy Birthday. And Thanks...

Today is the late Andre Dubus' birthday. I acknowledge this because Dubus was the first author whose short fiction I read, and loved, and felt I understood. I'd read short stories before his. In fact, let me take you back to 2004. Creative Writing (Fiction) class with Prof. Steve Lattimore. I'm a 32 year old writing major. I love to write, I love to read, but I am just now learning to study a work of fiction, to think about it, to take it apart and piece it back together.

Ours was a small class; about 10 students sitting around a big table, in a 2nd floor classroom in an old, white house that had been converted to house the English Department. Each class, we'd assemble to discuss the previous week's assigned story. And each week, I sat quietly, listening to my peers (many of whom were 10 years younger than I was) dissect and discuss the story. How are they getting that out of this story? I would think to myself. I either liked it or I didn't. It either held my attention or brought on a case of ADD whereby I'd have to reread full paragraphs.

But several weeks into the class, Lattimore assigned "The Fat Girl."

I got it. Finally. Not because I could relate to the main character (those of you who know me will laugh at that thought), but because Dubus had a gift. He created characters who were neither all good, nor all bad. His protagonists were regular people with regular problems, real emotions. They screwed up, they made mistakes, but they each had a fair shot at redemption. Dubus made us like them even more for their humanity.

After Dubus, Prof. Lattimore fed us Raymond Carver ("Cathedral), Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried) and Graham Greene ("The Quiet American"). Smart man. Really great stuff from truly talented writers.

But I digress, Dubus did so eloquently what I can only hope to do someday. And that is to tell a fantastic story in short form (a very difficult task, I assure you) that makes us feel, think, hope, cringe, gasp, smile...even cry. And most importantly, to remember.

I am grateful to Prof. Lattimore for introducing me to such talent (or am I? These are big shoes for any writer), and grateful to Andre Dubus for helping me, finally, to get it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Lazy Days of Summer

As another summer comes to an end (speaking strictly of school starting...the weather sure as hell isn't cooperating), I've been reminiscing about my own childhood summers. Remember those days? We'd spend the entire day outside. We'd swim at the pool, skip rocks down in the creek, climb over fallen tree trunks, catch fireflies, roast marshmallows...okay, every night was not a Disney camp show, but you know what I mean.

My family bought a lake house at Innsbrook this past October. It is a beautiful home on a big, still lake.

The lakehouse has brought back lazy, summer memories for me, and shown my kids a different way to relax this summer. We've spent lazy days (no computers, no playstation, and very little tv, save for the occasional movie just before bedtime) fishing off the dock and the boat...

swimming and jumping into the lake...

horse back riding...

Climbing across and balancing on fallen logs and hunting for treasures in the woods. Taking walks...

and playing at the beach...

We play board games, team up for foosball and shuffleboard and just...relax.

On a recent weekend there, all 3 of my kids were found kneeling in front of a box of legos, each absorbed in their own creations, but talking together as they built (if you are a parent to more than one child, you can appreciate this).

Late night s'mores over an open fire, star gazing...It's just what summer was intended to be. These are the times I want my kids to look back on and remember. I know I will.

What's your favorite summertime memory?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Give This Bookworm a Hand, Won't You?

I need a good book. Now, come on readers, I've recommended a few for you. Return the favor, won't you? My oldest son is heading to high school in less than two weeks (I'm quite sure I'll blog on this very soon as I can't quite believe it). Over the summer he was charged with reading three novels for his forthcoming Honors English class. The books were (in no particular order)...

The Illustrated Man (Bradbury)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque)
Frankenstein (Shelly)

With just 12 days to go, and having finished the first two, he is currently about 1/4 of the way through Frankenstein (and by the look on his face, it's no Ender's Game).

I thought it would be a good idea to read these three as well, so that, ya know, we could talk about them. And seeing as I have that whole B.A. in English going for me, I figured I could probably help him understand the stories. Give him an intelligent thought or two, right?

I did read All Quiet... (I know, I know, I can't believe I've never read it before either!), and enjoyed it. However, I don't agree wholeheartedly that it is the "greatest book on war ever written." Hang on, maybe it was the greatest book on war ever written at that time. That I can believe. It was a touching, honest story. Although my favorite is still The Things They Carried. Tim O'Brien is fantastic.

I did not read The Illustrated Man. The agony on Connor's face the whole way through that book was enough to scare me away from it.

I did start Frankenstein, but hell, I saw the movie more than once. That counts, right? I was slogging through when, thank God, Connor finished book #2 and was ready for it. Who am I to stand in the way of my son's continuing education?

So I've read some lazy, summer books. All fine and good. But I dare say that I'm ready for some substance! So, please, if you wouldn't mind recommending a few for me, that'd be swell. As a reminder, these are the ones I recommended to you back in February.