Sunday, December 2, 2012

Santa's Little Helper

By Terri Lively

I unwrapped the box. Seeing the picture, I was confused. Was my gift really what the picture was on the box? Or was this box repurposed from one of my brother’s presents in years past? 

As I popped the tape on the box that looked suspiciously like it was done at the factory and not with the Scotch tape on my parent’s desk, I peered in the box looking for telltale signs of substitute stuffing, like newspaper or crumpled tissue paper in red or green. All I saw was solid Styrofoam.

Even so, I was still not convinced that I was truly unwrapping a star ship intended for me, a little girl who liked to play dress up princess in the backyard, who sang Olivia Newton John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You into her hairbrush and who took her Barbies with her in the pool. But it was. And I was confused.

This was it...I can't believe I found it on Google!

“Is this…for me?” I asked, puzzled.

“Yup!” Dad smiled at me.

“Okay…” I pulled the whole ship out of the box, Styrofoam screeching in protest as I liberated it from the cardboard confines of the box. I lifted it up into the air. My older brother let out a wolf-whistle. He thought she was a beautiful little space ship.  Maybe it was for him after all.

“Push the buttons. It makes noise,” My dad said, encouraging me by gesturing with his hands.

I pushed the red button on the spaceship’s neck. It started with a rumbling sound that sounded like a jet engine, rising to a tight hum that indicated the ship was taking off.  I pressed the button again, and it roared again back down as if the ship were landing. I had to admit, it was kind of cool.

“But it’s a boy’s toy.” I said, almost like a question.

“Why do you think that?” dad asked, looking genuinely surprised that I would assign this toy to the “boy” category.

“Because…it’s a spaceship?” This was an actual question. Come to think of it, I didn’t know why I said it was a boy’s toy.

“I don’t see why just because it’s a spaceship that it means only boys can play with it.” Dad reasoned.

The Christmas frenzy moved on to one of my siblings opening another gift and I was left looking at the spaceship in my hands. Sure, why couldn’t I play with a spaceship? I stood up, smoothed the tulle of my big pink Christmas tutu, yanked the panties out of my rump, and started to fly my space ship around the room. I really kind of liked it.

My dad loves Christmas. He is very generous and jolly on Christmas morning, like Santa’s little helper. He loves shopping and wrapping and watching us all open our gifts. He puts a lot of time and energy in to selecting gifts for us.

As a result of his love affair with Christmas and his on-again, off-again relationship with stereotypes and expectations, my dad has always pushed the envelop with creative gifts. We give him a really hard time about it but when I reflect back on my Christmases’ past, these gifts made some of my favorite Christmas memories.

For instance, there was the year that we all got the same gift in our stockings called “Harpin’ It Easy: A Complete Harmonica Instruction Package. It came with a harmonica and a book about the size of a postcard. There was also a cassette that taught you what was in the book (and Google is AMAZING, because I found a picture of it, one that is available on eBay, and two you tube clips that feature lessons from the cassette).

Now the thing you gotta understand about a harmonica is that real harmonica players do not call it a harmonica. Real blues players call it a harp. That’s short for mouth-harp. See you didn’t even need to get the gift and you learned something. Pretty cool, huh?

But we thought that was the silliest gift ever. It wasn’t really. It was an opportunity. An opportunity missed by all of us, that’s for sure, since I don’t think any of us ever took the time to actually learn the blues harmonica. Opportunity knocked and we turned off the porch light and told it to move on to the next doorstep.

Too bad, because right in the intro of Harpin’ it Easy it tells you that if you work hard and “listen” you can be as good as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  I like to think your newfound musical skills could have also made you the featured act on C block after lights out in prison.

This clip on you tube just proved what jerks we are and what could have been:

Sigh. That coulda been me...

The source of our mirth was also the source of the harmonica lesson kit. The store my father shopped at with a frequency that may have needed a 12 –step program was the REO Salvage and Freight. But we didn’t call it that. We called it the Gettin’ Place.

We are a family of bargain hunters. We take pride as a family in getting a good deal on our goods and services.  We think paying full retail is for suckers. We were taught at a young age about the value of a dollar and working with a budget. Me less so than my older siblings, but I still got it, more or less.

I remember once, later in life, telling my dad that I found an apartment that had everything I wanted--a pool, a gym, a tennis court, crown molding, in-unit laundry--but it was really expensive.  His response to me was “Well that isn’t hard!” I was annoyed at the time but really he was right. That’s like lesson one in the whole bargain hunting philosophy: It’s easy to get what you want if you pay a lot of money for it. Finding it cheap is the skill (and thrill) of bargain hunting.

The Gettin’ Place illustrated a more advanced concept of bargain hunting. This was where you could find all the things you never knew you wanted at a good price. The store was about a ten-minute drive from my parent’s home and had an odd assortment of inventory that changed on a regular basis. One day they might have radiator caps and the next day they had tubs of dog biscuits and because they were salvaged from the wreckage of various calamities, they were cheap.

It was the nature of the changing of the inventory that drew my father there. It was his hobby to find value in things that other people would overlook. So sifting through the stock at the Gettin’ Place was one of the many stops on his running of the traps that he did to provide for his family. I’m not sure which warehouse fire yielded it, but we were pretty certain that Harpin’ It Easy was provided to us by the Gettin’ Place.

But the best presents that ever “fell off a jack-knifed rig on the East Bound 40 in West Texas” were the rings. That was the Great Ring Swap Christmas.

Each of us girls got a ring as a present. It came in a little red box. They were little pretty rings with costume jewels on them, the kind you can buy at Claire’s Boutique or whatever the popular trinket store is these days.  My ring had two ivory pearls on a gold band.

When all the girls had opened their rings, dad asked if we liked them. We all smiled and said “Sure.” Or “Yes, it’s lovely” or whatever else. He looked a little disappointed, so he asked again.

“Are you sure you like your ring?” he asked again, leading us to another answer.

“Why?” we asked, not sure where he was going with this.

“Because…” he said, raising a finger beside his face, pausing for effect so he had all of our attention… then turned around and left the room.  Each of us was looking at each other wondering what on earth was going on. We could hear rummaging in the closet of his office.  Then, mom groaned. Clearly she knew what was up. He returned to the family room where we all were waiting, intrigued by what he was doing in the closet that made mom cringe and hide her face in her hands. His hands were carrying something behind his back.

“…I have more rings to choose from!” he announced, as if he hadn’t just left the room for 3 solid minutes with no explanation or even a “just a sec.” beforehand. He has a flair for drama.

From behind his back, he pulled out a grey foam trey with about 30 to 50 rings on it. It looked like what the dentist has for you when you leave the office and didn’t bite him when you were in the chair. There were rings with costume sapphires and emeralds, and even cubic zirconia, which is the sparkling “diamond” of fake rings.

Then in his best snake-oil salesman voice, he said, “You can trade the ring you have for two of these rings, or one of these rings.” He drew circles in the air above the various rings indicating which ones were worth two for one of our rings and which were an even trade.

We all gathered around the rings, trying them on and comparing them. We all laughed and joked about how silly it was, but the truth is, we loved it. I still love it. The Great Ring Swap was one of the most fun Christmas mornings we had.

Christmas with my own family has just begun to be frenzied and fun. The kids are just old enough to get really excited about opening presents and Santa coming.

I do most of the shopping but I have the kids help.  I had them go through the Target catalog and circle everything they wanted, like a registry. And starting on Black Friday and it’s cousin Cyber Monday, I have started purchasing it. Soon all the best that China has to offer will be arriving via UPS and FEDEX. It’s a cool system and fairly hassle-free.

But I am missing the eccentric and unusual gifts my dad procured from the Gettin’ Place. There will be no unusual and comical gifts that my kids didn’t even know they wanted. There will be no shopping and swapping of accessories. It will be fun, just not the kind of fun my dad would have had in store for us.

I opted to stay in California for Christmas this year.  Travelling on the high-holidays with little kids sucks at a level so intensely that it is hard to crack jokes about it without sounding grouchy and bitter. But even so, I regret it. I miss my dad’s jovial cackle as we discover what treasures he picked out for us. His originality, and theatricality, made our Christmases more special and memorable than any “registry” ever would.

Maybe someday I will find the left coast equivalent of the Gettin’ Place where I will find the gifts that my kids didn’t expect. And I hope when I do that they will reflect back on their Christmases of their childhood and feel as loved as I do by my dad.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks for No Thanks

By Terri Lively

I have been trying to teach my kids to be polite, practically since they were born. We were teaching them the sign for Thank You before they could talk. When they could talk, we worked on the tough  “th” and “nk” sounds together so that others could understand their toddler-ese.

I have also been trying to teach myself not to lose my temper when even now, seven years later with the oldest child, I am still reminding him (and her, and the other him) to say thanks.

I shouldn’t be surprised at least not about Brenton. My oldest child is shy and cautious. He would rather die than talk to a stranger. Unfortunately, a stranger to him can be anyone outside of the immediate family at times. Even if he has known them since before he could walk. This reluctance to speak is, as anyone who knows me can attest, foreign to me.

My middle child is like me in that she never minds talking. Sometimes she just says words like “poop” in the middle of a sentence to get a laugh. But even she is unable to remember a well-placed thank you after someone does something or says something nice to her. Although of the three of them, she is by far the best with the thank you’s.

The baby who is just starting to talk gets a pass for now. He’s the youngest child so he doesn’t need manners. He just needs to stay cute so everyone doesn’t realize what a rude little turkey he can be.

So I wondered if maybe their reluctance to say thank you had anything to do with their parents. I reviewed whether Brenton and I were loath to use the words. But we aren’t. I would say we are most gracious recipients of compliments, services and/or gifts. We even send hand-written thank you notes to people. Sometimes...unless we forget.

We thank the UPS and Fedex guys when they drop stuff off at the door and literally dash back to the truck so quickly that we have to shout it down the walkway. But we still thank them.

We thank the people who tell us we have a beautiful family. We think (know) they are beautiful, but we are still pleased that other people notice.

We even thank people who have so much good advice for us. You know what they say about advice and opinions after all. (No…not that one, the other one about how you could never have too much helpful advice. You haven’t heard that one? I know…me neither. But we thank these helpful opinion- spouting people anyway since they apparently must have an extra orifice back there in the under-carriage so they have much bigger problems then not knowing when to keep their advice to themselves!)

But the kids…not so much. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small favor like picking up their dropped pencil or a big thing like a new bike. In fact, you could hand them a pass to Neverland where they would get to spend the night flying around on Captain Hook’s pirate ship, eating cookie dough and playing video games and you wouldn’t hear a peep of gratitude from them without my prompt.

I do have them write thank you notes. Sometimes ...unless we forget. They seem very willing to write it, by the way. It’s the saying of it that really seems to escape them.

The holidays are approaching however, and I am worried about how they will do in the family gift exchange. As they age, they begin to realize that all not gifts are created equal. Not everyone knows that they are seven (or five, or 20 months) and will get them a gift more suited to their younger sibling. Or something they already have. Or worst of all, something they don’t like. I fear the honest commentary that these realizations may launch in the unforgiving scrutiny of extended family.

But I have a plan. I am going to have present practice this year. We are going to wrap up items in the house and have them come up with something nice to say about the gift. And if they can’t think of anything, they can just say, “Thank You.” In fact, if they just say thank you in a convincing tone, then they will get bonus points.

I know that someday my kids will say thank you without a prompt from me. At least, I hope they will. I have had a couple of people tell me that my kids are extremely polite. But they have been around more than a couple people, and I have only heard that a couple of times…

When that day comes, I must remember not to faint. Or cry. Or make a joke about how that never happens in a stand-up comic, sardonic tone. But smile like I’ve been there before, enjoying the sound of the words I have worked so hard to get out of their cute little mouths.

I guess it’s not so bad to have to remind them. It’s not like I know any other kids who always says “Thank you.” Most moms are cajoling gratitude out of their little brood just like I am. I have a sing-songy way of chirping “What do we say?” after my kids miss their cue. I am certain that this exchange will show up in their blog someday as the punch line to their teen-aged angst-ridden rant on the hologram machine.

They are still little and working out how to be little grown ups. And as they hurtle toward adult hood at a pace that is alternately way too slow for my patience and way too fast for my heart, I need to remember that they are thankful even if they don’t use the words.

So on this Thanksgiving I give thanks for the lack of thanks in my life. For all the little ways that they still need me to help them, remind them and quite frankly nag them. Someday they will thank me with an email, a Hallmark card, or a crystal-powered holo-gram and I will feel pangs of regret for these days of no thanks.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Daylight Effing Savings Time

4:41 am Sunday morning.

“Ahaaaaa. Doooooo. Kaaaaaah. Kaaaaah.” Sings a happy little voice in my dream.

Open eyes. Squint at clock projected on the ceiling, a sinister sentry in the predawn hours glaring down at me in red numbers. Close eyes. Maybe I didn’t hear anything.

“Mama….mama…mama…maaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaa.” sings the voice again only this time not in a dream.

Open eyes again. Squint at projection numbers again. Roll over the edge of the bed to check the DVR clock. 4:42 am. For real? Look up at clock on wall run by honest to goodness batteries. 5:42 am. Realization sets in. Last night was Daylight Savings time, the fall back side. Daylight Effing Savings Time.


Cue the thump, thump, thump of my five-year-old across her Pergo floor, her tread as light and airy as a troop of elephants in army boots.

No. No. No. Not yet. Please? Maybe if I lay still enough, I can pretend to be asleep. Then hubby will get up and deal with them.

Squeeeeeaak goes my bedroom door on its hinges as the hall light spills in a rectangle on the floor to my right followed by a much quieter tread on the carpet to the edge of my bed.  Little hands and eyes just visible over the edge of the bed. A hushed whisper of “Mom?”

I don’t answer. I’m still feigning sleep and hoping for a rescue from the left side of the bed.

“Mom?...Gavin’s awake…Mom?”

I give up. I look at the red numbers flashing above my bed. 4:43 am. Heavy sigh. Aggravated shifting of my covers as I begin to swing my legs over the side of the bed.  Just before my toe hits the carpet illuminated by aforementioned hall light I hear:

“Okay. Okay. I’m up. I got this” from my hero, finally awake and probably because of the heavy sigh and aggravated shifting of covers just now. He knows morning isn’t my best time.

“Really? I can do it…” I half-heartedly offer,  snuggling back down in my still warm covers, relieved that I don’t have to parent in these ungodly predawn hours. But I gave up on going back to sleep at 5:01 am.

But as all moms of small children know, kids don’t get daylight savings time. Just because a gout-ridden, French-loving, revolution-inciting founding father knew a few people in government back when leeches were a viable medical option, we get to struggle through a week of misery while our little lovable cuddly children get their biological clocks adjusted to the mechanical ones.

Oh, sure. We have good reasons for daylight savings time. Not the least of which is that we don’t want kids to wait for the school bus in the dark.  Of course, I haven’t seen a school bus in Orange County since I moved here. But thank goodness no one is waiting for it in the dark.

Arizona, or the Maverick state, doesn’t worry about the kids waiting for the bus. Their wheels go round and round no matter where the sun and horizon are related in the morning. And somehow they survive.

But as I shuffle down the stairs this week at hours that make 5am look like a day I’m sleeping in, I wonder if Daylight (Effing) Savings Time isn’t an idea whose time has ended. I mean … we have electric lights. Maybe old Ben hadn’t discovered electricity when he suggested this little exercise every spring and fall.  But now, we have lights covered. We can get though the dark morning without stubbing a toe and needing to get a leech on it by candlelight.

Plus it was just a couple of years ago (2007) that Congress decided to extend the period of time we are on D(E)ST by a couple of weeks. It was part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was an attempt to combat growing energy problems and is subject to a repeal following the results of its effects revealed by an energy efficiency study.  I hope when they do the study they include all the energy we moms spend making extra coffee in the morning and posting on social media how frustrated we are by the giant crimp this is putting in our carefully nurtured and manically maintained schedules.

But this capricious shift of start and end dates does beg the question, if we can arbitrarily shift its duration to see if it improves our energy problems, can’t we also axe it to see if it improves my energy problems?

Okay, so I just read Wikipedia and I stand corrected. Ben Franklin just suggested daylight savings time. Apparently he got the idea from his French friends who would adjust their schedules to take advantage of the early morning sunlight. No doubt scowling at it and blowing their cigarette smoke in its “general direction” (imagine a badly-executed French accent here.) He didn’t actually make it happen.

The real culprits responsible for getting the ball rolling on good ole DST are a couple of dudes (naturally) who wanted to collect bugs after work hours down in New Zealand, or finish a round of golf on a prematurely dark midsummer’s London night. Their names were: George Vernon Hudson and William Willet, respectively. Each of them had these ideas independently. Both of them produced marketing materials to get everyone else on board. They weren’t successful, but they planted the seeds so that some more dudes, obviously not directly responsible for child rearing, could put it into effect during World War I.

I bet you can imagine what I will be thinking of all of these guys tomorrow when I am trudging down my stairs to the coffee machine at an hour that in my life is only reserved for making flights at LAX or putting down the patio umbrella during an especially intense Santa Ana Wind Event. Seriously, unless there is stomach flu or dairy cows involved, there is no reason to be up at this hour.

At least this is the fall back side of Daylight Effing Savings Time. Spring adds insult to injury by robbing you of an hour and making your kids sleep too long. Now you are forced to achieve super-heroic efficiency in the morning in order to make it to the fictional bus in the glorious sunlight. In the fall, I have at least a whole extra hour to drink coffee, check Facebook, placate hungry children with cereal and fruit, and change poopy pants. Gavin’s, not mine.

In a week or so, we will adjust back to a normal rising hour. Which, truth be told, is still insulting to me. And my venomous thoughts of injustice will fade for four months or so. Until I have to spring forward. Then I will be grouchy for another week. 

I’m too tired to end this with anything witty. Besides, I will be getting up in 6 hours, so I’d better get this posted and off to bed. Stupid Daylight Effing Savings Time.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Introducing the Ostrich Party

This is not a political blog. Ever. I also try to avoid other polarizing topics like religion, social class, and college football. Today I will break ALL of these rules.

I am called to write this post based on a quiz I took yesterday at the behest of my most liberal friend. He keeps me in touch with the far left. And youth. After all, he is the age of my nephews and went to Berkeley where he majored in Human Studies. Even liberals whisper about how far to the left he is.

Anyway, I answered very broad questions about my stance on various party issues. Then I could choose how important this issue was to me on a scale that ranges from not at all important to really, really important.

You were given a couple of answers.  If those didn’t really represent your feelings in enough detail, you were then given a few more options that added some more qualifiers. For example, if the question was “Do you like to listen to Rush Limbaugh?” and yes or no didn’t cover it, these options would add in things like “Yes, as long as I have in ear plugs and can’t hear anything he has to say.” Or “No, because I am too busy searching for naked pictures of Ann Coulter.” Okay maybe not just like that but you get the picture.

Based on my answers, I was then matched by a percentage to each of the candidates so I could see who best represented my beliefs. So I read my results and literally had steam coming out of my ears when I did.

You probably don’t know much about my politics. That’s on purpose. My mother taught me never to talk about politics in polite conversation. Because of this, I feel that I should explain myself a little more before I tell you where I came down in the “How much do you love your candidate?”, political-quiz-goes-Redbook exercise.

I am a registered Republican. But if you ask me, I will tell you that I am an Independent. In California, however, you have to pick a party or you don’t get to vote in the primary.  So my mother told me to pick the very best one and democrat was not it.

So Republican won. Not that they really won anything since I don’t give money and I don’t vote the straight ticket. It really means that I get all their junk mail and a Christmas card from my Representative.

For years, I have felt frustrated by our two-party political system. But after the Perot fiasco of the 1992 presidential election, I recognize that when there are more than two parties, you just end up helping one of the big two by separating the other group’s votes.

So when I read that a lot of my opinions about political issues aligned me with Mitt Romney, I was a little surprised but not steamed. After all, you can take the girl out of the red state …

When I found out that I aligned with Jill Stein, I had to ask who that was (Green party). I guess that’s because I believe in global warming. I think that making sure  the epic film Waterworld doesn’t become a prophetic glimpse of our future is important.

Apparently, I am also a little libertarian, because Gary Johnson came up as one of my top four candidates. Of course, I just had to Google who the libertarian candidate was, so I guess old Gary can’t really celebrate my vote yet. Plus, I wouldn’t know what a libertarian was if it wasn’t for Penn Jillette’s book, which I only read after I saw him on Celebrity Apprentice. But none of these things made me mad.

What made me feel like stringing together a list of swear words that would make Yosemite Sam proud, was that I was considered a liberal on science. Because I said that I believe in evolution.


At what point did Republicans officially embrace a philosophy against evolution? What’s next? Will I be considered a liberal if I argue against the edict that the world is flat? And since when is evolution a political issue? I feel this argument plays out much better in a church basement or a poetry slam than on Capitol Hill.

If this is representative of the mindset of a republican party member, then count me out. I don’t want to be lumped in with this lot. I guess that makes me a reluctant liberal. I blame my liberal arts education. They insisted on teaching me science and math in spite of the fact I was a Theatre Major.

The truth is that I don’t feel like either party really represents me. Especially since we are a middle class family. Both parties have their plans for our W2 income and I don’t think any of it is in our best interest.

So I have all three debates recorded on the DVR. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I figured out that it doesn’t matter who I vote for in the presidential race because Obama is getting my vote no matter what I do in the polling booth.  I live in a blue state. In fact, I live in the blue state, so blue that we haven’t seen even one presidential ad. You wouldn’t know it was a presidential election year unless you get stuck in LA traffic on a day Obama is here collecting checks from the Hollywood elite.

I do have a stack of mail about the California propositions filed on my desk. I have the sample ballot in that stack of paper as well. I also have every intention of reading all of it maybe. Years like this make me long for the days when husbands told their wives how to vote. Cue women suffragists rolling in graves now.

Since I became a stay-at-home mom, I have gradually become less and less aware of the world outside my little bubble. A person well informed of current world events would think that not knowing what’s going on would affect his or her everyday life. It does, just not the way he or she would expect.

When really nasty stuff happens in the Middle East, I am blissfully unaware. When gas prices climb to staggering heights, I don’t know about it. I can blame the broken vase in the bathroom on the kids and not the 5.2 Earthquake I just rode on my couch.

Because I am wildly uninformed, I am worthless in a political debate. If anyone traps me in a political conversation, I usually listen with my eyes glazed over and make vague comments like, “What would the founding fathers have to say about that?” Or sometimes just a brilliant and almost always appropriate “Totally.”

My mom was really upset the other day about the news she heard on FOX. Actually, I should amend that to say that my mom is always really upset about the news she heard on FOX. But on this particular day, she told me about whatever she was worked up about and then asked me “And then do you wanna know what he said?”

My answer was no.  I don’t wanna know. That’s why I don’t watch or read or surf. I don’t even DVR the Daily Show. Ignorance is bliss.

So if the two-party system doesn’t work for me, the completely uninformed and woefully underrepresented middle-class mom, then I am forced to create my own party. I have the perfect one. I even have my animal mascot.

Announcing: The Ostrich party. We are a fledgling group, unwilling to meet in public and apt to run, at speeds from 30 to 60 miles per hour, from any kind of political conversation. And when we can’t run, we hide our head. Our political strategy goes like this:

Q: Hey, Terri…Should the U.S. raise the debt ceiling?

A: Foomp. (The sound of my head as it goes in the sand.)

Q: Hey Terri… Do you think we should have bailed out the banks in 2009?

A: Foomp.

Q: Hey Terri…Who should we bomb first: Libya or Iran?

A: Foomp.

Q: Hey Terri…wasn’t it awesome how USC lost yesterday and Notre Dame spanked a top ten school?

A: Fooooomp!

It’s nice down here. No pressure. No decisions. No endless streams of rhetoric that leave me feeling duped and depressed. No one is trying to tell me that we can replace our oil dependency with clean coal technology, oblivious of the fact that it’s an oxymoron. It’s quiet, dark, and peaceful.

Down here in the sand the U.S. economy is booming, China doesn’t own us, and USC still has a chance at the national title. Best of all, it isn’t considered radical to believe that over time, things change for the better to adapt to the world around them.