Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dancing for Jackson

Last night I went to the Mr. Thunder Pageant with D at her high school. This is not like the Thunder Down Under, which would be very wrong since there were teenage boys involved. It wasn't dirty or sexy, but it was silly, goofy and, at times, touching.

There were 12 senior boys participating in the pageant with the purpose of raising money for Jackson, this year's Sparrow Club beneficiary (more on Jackson later). The evening's entertainment consisted of typical "beauty contest" events - sportswear, talent and formal attire with interview. Only with a twist, because these are teenage boys we are talking about. Sportswear meant putting on the uniform for whatever sport they compete in. For one boy this meant a fluffy, pink polka-dotted robe that revealed a neon pink leopard-print speedo underneath. My retinas pretty much have that image burned into them. It's not pretty.

The talent portion meant anything from a fake display of Guitar Hero skill (played to a YouTube video) to a Justin Bieber impersonation to a father/son duet to a stand-up comedian (who was really funny - just deadpanned it perfectly) to a self-choreographed dance. My favorite was the one-man band. This kid rocked. He played piano, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, trumpet and French horn to a piece he composed himself. It was beautiful.

The teenage girls who emceed the event put together a wake-up video of each of the boys. They woke the contestants up at 5 a.m. and asked them questions like "What kind of mythical creature would you like to be?" and "If you were on a deserted island, which contestant would you eat first?" These were grumpy faces only a mother could love, grunting and hiding under their sheets. My favorite answer to the mythical creature question came from the single gay contestant. "I'd be a fairy because I'm already halfway there."

The funniest answer during the interviews was in response to the question, "What is beauty to you?" This was a boy after my own heart - "It would be really beautiful if everyone in the world stopped wearing crocs." The most touching answer came from the gay student. He claimed that his twin sister is his hero because she has been through it "all" with him. For a teen, this seems flippant. What hardships have these mostly-privileged teens faced in their young lives? But he was very open and candid talking about coming out and how his sister has always accepted and supported him. It was a moment of bravery.

However, the tears came for me in the beginning of the show. Each boy was introduced with a video of pictures from infancy through today and these were accompanied by blurbs about them that their parents wrote. I saw them as silly, goofy, show-off kids. Which they are. But their parents saw them as loving, kind, compassionate, generous people, young men that they are proud of and that they love. Which they also are. So I sat there and tried my best to wipe my eyes discreetly, because I was surrounded by a bunch of other teenagers who might not have been so nice. They can smell fear, you know.

And now the real reason that we were all there. For Jackson. Jackson is a little boy who just turned one. In his tiny little life he has had to endure six surgeries and over 80 days in the hospital. He has a condition I can't pronounce or remember but it prohibits his body from absorbing nutrients. He is on IV nutrition for 16 hours a day, which puts him at constant risk of infection. Jackson was present last night with his parents, his mom carrying his backpack of fluids, tubes connected to his belly. He's adorable. He's a perfect baby who doesn't deserve the restrictions his body has placed on him. His mom said it's easy to forget how sick he is because he is always so happy. But he is sick. He's very sick.

At the end of the evening, shortly before the Mr. Thunder winner was revealed, it was announced that as of last night, $41,000 has been raised to help Jackson and his family with their ongoing medical costs and care. Times are still tough for a lot of people, which makes this amount so significant.

I was talking to a friend about the pageant and fundraising efforts. She's a teacher and this wasn't her first time at the rodeo. She, rightfully, has a certain cynicism towards the whole thing. I get that. Kids do act dumb, some might not have really taken it seriously. But there's no denying that they did a Good Thing. I'm okay with teenagers making fools of themselves if this is the result. I know why their parents are proud of them. I would be too.

I'm sure Jackson's family would be more than willing to accept ongoing donations, but I couldn't find any contact information to give you. I suggest calling Summit High School as someone there is bound to be able to help you if you want to help Jackson.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wedding Bliss

Thirty years ago I was fascinated by a wedding and a princess. Charles and Diana's nuptials were the most romantic event in my young life. I ate up everything I could about their courtship. I went camping at the beach with my best friend and her family and we convinced her parents to let us watch the TV movie that reenacted their romance while eating s'mores. Miraculously there was a TV in the tent and we swooned and giggled with mouthfuls of marshmallows.

Mostly, though, I was in love with Diana. Charles was the prince, but he was comparatively old, and to be honest, a doofus. She was beautiful; she glowed. I wanted my hair cut like hers. I desperately wanted a copy of that red sweater she wore with the single black sheep. I even loved her nickname, Shy Di, because I was painfully shy at that age. She made shyness exquisitely charming.

My parents couldn't have been less interested in the royal wedding, but thankfully tolerated my infatuation. The only time I was ever allowed to watch television in their bedroom was to view the wedding as it was broadcast live. I was alone, but it was my own Cinderella moment. It was like a dream, a real-life fairy tale. I had never witnessed anything so enchanting - the yards and yards of her gown as she floated down the aisle, the grandeur of the ceremony, the couple waving at the cheering crowds of onlookers from the carriage that whisked them away from the church, that awkward kiss on the palace balcony.

We didn't yet know how devastatingly unhappily this marriage would end. The truths that were revealed were ugly and sad, but they never tarnished my love for Diana. When she died, I cried for a week. I watched her funeral and my heart broke seeing her two young sons following the casket, topped with white flowers and a card simply labeled, "Mummy".

And now her oldest son is getting married. "Wills" is the future king of England with his mother's smile. Will I be watching this wedding? Oh, will I!!!

I have scoured the internet for details of this wedding to Kate ever since their engagement was announced. I watched the engagement interview, carefully noting how they look at each other, how he talks about her respectfully and with love. I want this marriage to last. I don't know why it matters to me, it just does. It's as if Diana's love for her son should live on in his happiness, that her early influence will have taught him how to love someone in a way that she wasn't.

What will really matter in less than two weeks now is the glamorous celebration that will take place at 4 a.m. my time and yes, I will be awake. JW invited me to watch it with her. We contemplated a party and I wanted to send out invitations if only to get the "Hell NO! Are you crazy?" responses. But she thought people might decide to start showing up around 8 a.m. and that just isn't right. Only those awake from the beginning get to enjoy the champagne. I may be drunk by 6, but I will have earned it.

Here's the best part. We will be wearing pajamas after deciding to forgo the fancy hats and dresses. However, I will be wearing my veil and JW has created the most delicious pink taffeta-tiara confection. The menu has been planned to honor the bride and groom - tea sandwiches with cucumbers and smoked salmon, scones, eggs, pastry-wrapped sausages, tea and champagne. It will be the second-best thing to being at the actual wedding.

I'm pretty sure that even though Diana won't be there, she will be watching.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Daddy's Little Girl

My dad and I have always had a complicated relationship. Or maybe I only have a complicated relationship with him. Different animals.

My parents divorced when I was four. I don't remember them ever being happy. As soon as we walked in the door at the end of the day, they were at each other's throats. I would sit quietly on the steps outside the kitchen and wait for my dinner.

The custody battle was long and ugly. I knew how much each parent hated the other. I felt responsible for their feelings and learned how to protect them, answering questions based on who was asking at the time. Secretly, I always wanted to live with my mom but he was given custody first. Most of my return visits were tense to say the least.

After my mom remarried and moved from our home in Texas to California, she continued to fight for me and was finally granted custody. I was six, halfway through first grade.

I saw my dad for the last time when I turned seven. He made the drive to California to pick me up for a summer vacation. I don't even remember where we went. Camping. Somewhere. I didn't know when he took me back home that it was the last time. I was just happy to be sleeping in my own bed again.

Then the phone calls stopped. No more birthday cards, no Christmas gifts. There was never any child support. I'm sure Mom was relieved. Since I don't remember having my own feelings, I can only assume I replicated her relief. Dad became my "sperm-donor" at some point because I had a new dad. Life went on in California.

When I was 24, living in Oregon and married, we found out he was looking for me. He had hired a private detective, some stupid woman who called Mom's house on a regular basis claiming to be a college friend of mine. The last straw was my dad showing up at my grandparent's house unannounced and wanting to show them every picture of me he had, oblivious to the fact that his presence was desperately unwanted.

I finally called him. I wasn't so nervous as angry. Angry that he had taken so long. That he had done it this way. I was also fiercely protective of my family. My grandparents were being dragged into the drama and my mom was beside herself with anger. Livid with hatred.

That was the first call, it ended up not being the last. He asked to see me; I hesitated for months and then acquiesced. Out of curiosity? I'm not sure. That first visit was horribly uncomfortable. He was like a stranger, but a stranger that I knew. Mostly I felt like he didn't know me, he could only think of me as the seven-year-old he saw last.

It's been like that ever since. I've been angry with him for being gone. Or coming back. They're sort of mixed up together. I sent a few hostile letters at first. I didn't know if I even wanted to keep him in my life, let alone how to fit him in. He clearly wanted to be a daddy and I was past that point and had been for a long time. I needed a daddy when it was Christmas, when I got braces, learned to drive, went to prom, graduated from high school and then college. I needed my daddy to give me away at my wedding. My dad was there, but not my daddy.

When my daughter was born I felt obligated to allow him into my life. I wasn't just making decisions for myself anymore. I felt she had a right to know who her grandfather is and form her own decisions about her feelings. Of course I forgot that she takes her cue from me and won't love him on her own. She is the second generation now that won't love someone without the permission to do so.

People have said, "At least he tries." "At least he is here now." Parent/child relationships don't work that way. Seventeen years is a length of time that "at least" doesn't cover. It's not superficial, not a surface feeling. I was a child. As a parent, I would never turn my back on my daughter. Ever. It isn't even physically possible for me. He has his reasons, his excuses, whatever he tells himself so he can sleep at night. But how does the eight-year-old child understand why her father is gone? Did he stop loving her? Was he tired of her? Does he love other kids now? Is he even still alive?

He has now been back for almost as long as he was gone. He won't let me push him away. He's the first person to offer help when I need it. Even I can't ignore that anymore. He's remarried and I adore my stepmom, even though I rejected her at first too. She helps to bridge a lot of the weirdness between us. She's a buffer and I think she knows it and doesn't mind in the least. I finally call them "my parents" and it doesn't feel strained. A year ago I absolutely refused to go visit him; this year I happily accepted his invitation.

What changed? I've lost a lot of my family. There is too much distance between most of us, both physical and emotional. I've lost important relationships that I never wanted to give up. I suppose I'm just taking family where I can get it these days. He genuinely wants to be a part of my life and it just gets harder to try to turn that down. It doesn't show up every day.

At my last book club, I was asked what connects me to my dad. My first answer was "guilt". Because for a long time it was. I didn't want to have regrets later. I didn't want to be the reason I didn't have a dad. Also, selfishly, it let me off the hook so that I could continue blaming him, I could have a scapegoat. I could be self-righteous and absolved when he left again because I did my part.

It might be more than that now. And maybe it's just time. Finally.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nine Weeks

That is nine weeks as in nine weeks of unemployed boredom. Not 9 1/2 weeks of tantalizing, honey-covered sex. Guess which one I'd rather have?

I realize it's been a while since I've given an update on my thrilling life of No Job, but really, there's no point. Aside from my little jaunt to Vegas, every week is the same. I sleep in, I complain about the weather, think a lot about eating, play online, drive the kid around and wait by the phone. Or email, as it seems to be in the technical world.

This week was only slightly different because this will be my first month being solely dependent on my unemployment "benefits". The severance was used last month to get caught up on bills so now I will feel the full weight of not having a regular paycheck. I woke up in a panic attack the other morning when I realized this. I have trouble breathing if I think about it for very long, so I try not to think about it.

I switched to a more affordable form of my antidepressant. Generic Celexa is not my beloved Lexapro. I feel like I'm on nothing at all. Hence the panic attacks, the crying myself to sleep at night and lacking the energy to clean my house. Forget about working out. Excuses come easily in a depressed state.

Here's the real news. It's time for a change. A big one. I'm in a rut, I'm tired of complaining and waiting for things to happen to me. Time to make things happen for me. I've started applying for jobs out of state, in warmer states. It seems like an impossible task; there is a lot to coordinate with D and her activities and goals and well-being. But I think it's time. My family isn't here, my relationship ended, the job is gone. If the universe is trying to send me a message, I also expect it to cooperate with my efforts.

Austin is at the top of my list. Is it crazy to move somewhere I've never been before? Does it count that I lived in Dallas until I was six? I've been doing my research. It's a top 10 city in the country for dogs and dating. Hopefully the two aren't related. There are numerous ballet schools plus one really great academy. Music, food, art, warmth, Life. There are even celebrity bats, what's not to like? The only negative attribute I ever hear is that it can be hot and humid. Are you kidding me? I'd willingly trade a couple of months of scorching mugginess over nine months of cold, gray, rainy, snowy oppressive skies.

Wish me luck. Or better yet, find me a job and pay for my move. I'll invite you to my housewarming party. Come on, it's a fair trade.

Okay. You're caught up. I did something productive today. Go back to your breakfasts and coffee. I'm going to go back to teaching the dog to play hide and seek.
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