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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Auld Lang Syne (What IS That?)

It just occurred to me that we are not simply toasting away another year and welcoming a new one this weekend, but we are about to say goodbye to the very first decade of this millennium.

I know this is probably not news to most of you. Perhaps I am late to the party. If that is the case, I hope you will consider me fashionably so and join me in looking back not just on 2009, but all ten of the years that comprised the… um… Do we have a clever name for this decade yet?

The New Millennium’s First Decade (too wordy?) was ushered in around the world with fireworks, fanfare and zero repercussions from the dreaded Y2K bug.

Fearing every computer on the face of the earth would crash, forcing us to live like pioneers, many greeted the new millennium prepared for disaster. I must confess I had a case of water and new blanket on hand, which I realize in hindsight, would have sustained us for five, maybe six hours.

Fortunately those fears were unwarranted, and as the ball dropped in Times Square it seemed the Oh’s (too vague?) were going to be just fine.

And for a while they were. Jennifer and Brad were happily married, Britney was voted Best New Artist and Tom and Nicole celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary.

Of course that was one Angelina, one K-Fed and one too many jumps on Oprah’s couch ago, back when Sopranos sang in choirs, Billy Ray was the only Cyrus and Paris was simply a city in France.

Yep, much changed during the Aughts (too retro?), and I’m not just talking about a certain Tiger and his stripes.

Decade 0.0 (too tech-y?) gave birth to texting and tweeting, Survivors and Losers, low-carb diets and High School Musicals. Madonna went British, Demi went cougar and everyone went green.

Thanks to DVRs, YouTube, and TMZ, we witnessed more events first-hand during this decade than any other. We cheered on Lance to jersey after jersey, watched Susan Boyle melt Simon’s cold heart, and elected eight Idols without ever leaving home.

We learned about wardrobe malfunctions, we knew who at any given point had or had not put a ring on what, and, OMG, we spoke in acronyms. (Sorry, BFF’s, TMI?)

But the decade-we-have-yet-to-name wasn’t all Phelps and games. There were disasters ranging from merely Gosselin to downright gruesome in nature.

Someday we will share with our children’s children those deeply etched memories of the decade’s darker hours. Where we were on September 11th. Or the time a storm named Katrina tried to swallow New Orleans. Or the day the Moonwalk died.

Not this week, though.

This week is not to be spent worrying about the past. This week is to be spent curled up under our Snuggies with our iPods and Red Bull, looking forward to a new (though likely also nameless) decade, dreaming of all it might hold.

Or, at least, that’s what she said.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Carol ('09)

Jolly Old St. Nicholas, lean you ear this way...

I've been busting my tail to be ready Christmas Day.

Fighting crowds at Target, hanging lights upon the tree,

Even baking cookies (what has gotten into me?)




Narrowing the wish list of my diva, Caroline,

Down to just a few things from six-hundred-forty-nine,

Hunting down the presents that my son hopes to receive,

Wishing that my daughter in fifth grade could still believe.


Trying to decide just what to get for my pre-teen

Teenage girls are tough, dear Santa, you know what I mean.

Switching cash and credit to throw Husband off my trail,

Trying to get Christmas cards all stamped and in the mail.


Eating all the cookies and the candy neighbors make,

Knowing I'll regret each bite that I can't help but take,

Braving freezing wind chills to light up my new fake deer,

Hopefully the head will work this time (unlike last year!)




Decking all the halls with boughs of something red & green,

Finding Baby Jesus, kidnapped from the manger scene.

Muppets and John Denver fill the air the whole month long,

("Noel: Christmas Eve 1913"'s my favorite song)


Setting up the TiVo to record the season's shows

Watching Chevy Chase light up his house until it glows,

Rooting for the Grinch and hearing Polar bells' sweet rings,

Every time a leg lamp's lit an angel gets his wings.


Going in for flu shots that we haven't gotten yet

(Don't you worry, Santa, our deductible's been met.)

One last task to finish now, before it gets too late:

Find a New Year's sitter who won't charge a hooker's rate.


Just a few days left now before you come flying by

(Would you rather have leftover cookies or some pie?)

I'd just like to tell you, Santa, while I have your ear,

Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fun with Holiday Cards


(Scroll down a few inches for this week's story)


Can't get enough of holiday card fun? Neither can I. And neither can my buddy, Sassy Britches, who lays out some valuable rules in her blog.



Say Cheese!

It is the most important picture any mother will take of her children all year, the photo that is viewed more than any other, the photo that defines the family:

The Holiday Card Photo

I vividly remember my dear mom dragging our family to the mall in August of 1982, all six of us decked out in turtlenecks and matching reindeer sweaters, to take advantage of the summer portrait package. Mom thought ahead in every way, taking the picture, saving money, and getting it done early. Every way except the fact that, by the time we trudged across the 115-degree parking lot in full-on winter attire, our summer tans had melted away to a clammy shade of pale.

The photo still sits in her house today.

While experience wasn’t pleasant, I did learn two valuable lessons. The first, to never wear neck-to-toe polyester in the summer, and the second, to always plan ahead for the holiday card.

And so year after year, with every new experience and celebration, I shoot away in hopes of taking what will become THE holiday card shot. This year we posed in the snow, at the park, at the Hutchinson Salt Mines, at the beach, and on our front porch, all to no avail.

It was while tailgating before the KU-OU football game, all of us dressed in crimson and blue and glowing in the beauty of autumn in Lawrence, Kansas, that I decided this would be the setting for the Dunlap Family’s 2009 holiday card photo.

I scouted the hill until I found the perfect spot with Memorial Stadium as our backdrop and Kansas-blue skies above. After carefully arranging my husband and four kids for the photo, I found a young guy who seemed capable of working a camera and asked him to help us.

“No pressure,” I told him, “but this one is for the holiday card, so make it good!”

I jumped in with my crew and smiled for the camera, but the photographer wasn’t satisfied. “Let’s try another,” he smiled. He took another picture. And another. And another, laughing more and more after each one. Apparently he had never seen such a cheerful and photogenic family.

Or so I thought.

It was not until we got home that I saw what he had seen.

While the rest of us were looking straight ahead, facing the camera with gleaming smiles,Caroline, our six-year-old who is known to march to her own drummer, had her head cocked to the side, her eyes crossed, and her tongue sticking out. Every. Single. Shot.

Not a single photo of our crimson and blue family without Caroline hijacking it in the whole series.

After a split second of fury I burst out laughing, as I realized I was about to send out our best holiday card ever...




Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some (pre-)Assembly Required

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

And while the children were nestled all snug in their beds, Dave and I stealthily pulled out the toys Santa had carefully hidden, unaware of how under qualified we were for the job ahead.

We cruised along, setting up ponies and pet shops and girl toys galore, but the showstopper of the spread was the “some assembly required” Spiderman Tower of Fun for our son, complete with an air-powered zip line and superhero launch pad. We could not wait to see the look on his face the next morning.

By 12:30 a.m. we had freed the last Polly Pocket from her packaging and were ready to tackle the Tower of Fun. Dave searched the house for screwdrivers while I pried open the box. Parts spilled out onto the floor, each securely wrapped and clearly marked --- with a Japanese character.

Hmmm, I thought, I wonder why these are marked in Japanese?

My question was answered as I unfolded the poster-sized paper with step-by-step instructions and photos of a person (who, I might add, did not look happy) assembling the Tower of Fun. They were detailed and in order --- and written entirely in Japanese.

I flipped the poster over, expecting to find English, or even Spanish, hoping those three semesters in college where I learned how to find the library, announce my plans to visit a beach with friends, and order a beer would also enable me to assemble a Tower of Fun.

But the only English words on the poster read, “WARNING: Failure to properly assemble could result in serious – VERY SERIOUS – injury. Follow ALL directions, EXACTLY as written, or your child will surely lose an appendage. DON’T MESS THIS ONE UP!”

Dave returned with two screwdrivers to find his pale wife under the tree staring at a pile of miscellaneous parts.

“It looks like the blue thing goes on the red thing first,” I said, looking at the picture.

“How can you tell?” Dave said, “The picture is in black-and-white.”

By 1:35 a.m. the tower was nearly halfway complete. We still did not know how to attach the power tube to the launch pad, but we did notice all of our neighbors had shut off their lights.

By 2:00 a.m. we had considered and ruled out the option of burning the Tower of Fun and wrapping up one of Luke’s toys from the year before instead.

By 2:40 a.m. we had run out of things to say and had stopped speaking to each other.

By 3:19 a.m. the (expletive) Tower of Fun was upright and mostly functional in spite of the handful of leftover parts. We were the last elves standing, bags like stockings hanging under our eyes, and resolved to never repeat the Tower of ’05…

For I heard Dave exclaim, as we both hit the hay, “We won’t do this next year, no how and no way!”


Dedicated to my parents and parents everywhere; and the “some assembly required” Millennium Falcon of ’84.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Basketball is a FAMILY Show!

Dear Allen Fieldhouse "Kiss Cam" Operator,


I understand the second half, under-eight TV timeout leaves you feeling obligated to entertain the 16,300 college basketball fans in attendance who would otherwise be left twiddling their thumbs while waiting for the Kansas Jayhawks to take the court again.

And I, like my fellow basketball enthusiasts, certainly enjoy it when you fill that time by zooming in on happy couples and watching their reactions to seeing themselves on the big screen above the scoreboard and then kissing. On the very big screen. In front of everyone.

And I do think that was very sweet of you to take notice of my daughter pointing at my husband and me, begging you to put us on the "Kiss Cam" just after the elderly couple who did not seem to know they were being filmed.

Believe me, my daughter has never been made to feel more special.

However...

After Dave and I obliged you with a very cute (albeit somewhat flustered) smooch, you proceeded to linger. We looked up on the screen, expecting to watch your next victims - er - lovebirds, only to find we were still the target. On the very big screen. In front of everyone.

We had followed the protocol perfectly. We pointed, we laughed, we kissed, just like the "Kiss Cam" unwritten rules state. Yet you did not leave us alone.

Thinking this was just a video delay, I smiled at the screen. But things quickly got uncomfortable, and I began to wonder what, exactly, you wanted us to do.

And why on earth you thought we were going to do that live onscreen at Allen Fieldhouse?


So, for future reference, please remember that we are happy to provide you with a free peek at first base, but you are not welcome to stick around in hopes of catching a glimpse of second.

No matter how much air time you are willing to give us.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk,
Jules

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude. And Gravy.

Do we still get to have Thanksgiving this Thursday?

It seems one of my Top Three Favorite Meals-Slash-Holidays (Mother’s Day and My Birthday rank numbers two and one, respectively) (because I don’t have to cook) has been squeezed out by Halloween and Christmas.

Now, I understand the obsession every October with bite-sized Snickers, two-bar Kit Kats, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins. In fact, I understand the obsession so well I already have a four-pound jump-start on my holiday weight gain.

And I love the Christmas season with all of my heart, in particular the Reese’s Peanut Butter Trees. And any holiday party that involves fondue, fudge, and peppermintinis. And any Christmas song that doesn’t mention Grandpa and a reindeer.

But in between making Halloween costumes and loading up Santa’s sleigh in a way that is both fiscally responsible and pleasing to all recipients, it has been a tradition since 1621 to draw our loved ones near and take time to reflect upon our blessings great and small with gratitude. And gravy.

I will go first.

For me, family tops the list. After more than 12 years of being the primary cereal-pourer, all four kids now know how to make their own breakfast; and while my husband still doesn’t know how to boil pasta, he does know the words to “Ice, Ice Baby.” For all of that, I am most grateful.

Extended family too. Especially my brother-in-law, whose Thanksgiving dinner would send Paula Deen into orbit; the kind of meal you train for, slowly expanding your stomach days before in anticipation, doing jumping jacks during the Macy’s Parade in a preemptive strike against the damage sure to ensue from his homemade stuffing and bourbon-laced pecan pie.

Yeah, this time of year Chris is pretty much my favorite (way to go, sis!), followed closely by their 21-month-old son, my only nephew, who makes me smile every time he waddles his pudgy little thighs my direction to give me a big, slobbery kiss. He also reminds me to be grateful that the toddler phase of my life is over, and I am allowed to have nice things on my coffee table again.

And I am beyond grateful for my friends who are loads of fun and quick to assure me that I do not look old. No matter what that college kid at the Wheel said about welcoming me to Beta Moms’ Weekend.

Additional props go to the makers of TiVo, under-eye concealer, slice-and-bake cookies, Spanx, and the water bra.

Really the only thing that could fill me with any more gratitude would be if Reese’s would please start producing the peanut butter turkey I have been begging them to make for years now.

And, of course, if major retailers would just back off of us for the week and let us have Thanksgiving.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend, and to my readers outside of America, my heartfelt condolences on missing out on gravy this weekend, it rocks!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's Nothing to See Here

“Julie?” Dave said when I answered my cell phone while out to lunch with a friend, “is Luke having Andy over today?”

Oops.

“Um, yeah,” I stammered, “didn’t I tell you that?” (I knew I had not). In my excitement to escape the house, I had completely forgotten to tell everyone Andy was coming over to play.

Luckily Andy and Luke got busy right away building Legos, playing Rock Band, and shooting hoops in the rain all afternoon.

Other than one little incident with the boys involving a wet shirt, a hairdryer, and the words, “WHOA! Were those SPARKS???” (at which point I abandoned my work in the kitchen and ran up to my bathroom just in time to deliver the “If It’s Not Yours Don’t Touch It” speech to Luke, who, to be fair, was only trying to get his buddy’s rain-soaked shirt dry before his dad came to pick him up), things went quite smoothly.

Until Andy’s dad arrived.

“Oh, good,” he smiled when I answered the door, “I’m glad you’re home!”

I laughed, unsure of what he meant. Everyone else had been home all day.

Sensing my confusion, he explained. “I came to the door with Andy, and your daughter [she is 10] answered the door. I asked if you were home, and she said no. I asked if Dave was here, she said he was in the shower. So I just looked at Andy, wished him good luck, and left him here.”

Andy’s dad is very forgiving.

“I’m so sorry, I forgot to tell them you were coming before I left,” I told him. The boys ran off to find Andy’s shoes while I continued my confession, detailing the hair dryer incident.

“So, did sparks really fly?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but I got there before any damage could be done,” I said reassuringly. I left out the part about my bathroom smelling like smoke.

Just then the boys returned with Andy’s shoes. And a steak knife.

“Mom?” Luke said, holding the knife up to me with his eight-year-old grin, “Can we cut a hole in a shoebox for my homework?”

Luke had been itching to start his creative book report project all weekend and was now holding a knife up to a man who may or may not ever bring his child over to play again.

“Honey, let me have the knife,” I said through a tight grin, “and you get the shoebox ready.”

I turned back to Andy’s dad and thanked him again for bringing Andy over while Andy put his shoes on when I heard a familiar name.

“Mom?” Luke said again as I turned around to see him holding both a torch lighter and a book of matches, “Can I light a candle in the kitchen?”

Andy’s dad broke the silence. “Are you sure you were actually watching them today?” he said with a nervous laugh and a smile that (I hope) meant he was just kidding around.

Watching them pull out of the driveway I immediately started formulating my foolproof plan for an exit strategy should Child Protective Services come a-calling. So if future blogs come from a woman named Elsie in hiding in Newmarket, Ontario with her husband, Felix, you’ll know what happened.

(No need to get the guest room ready right now, Erin, they haven’t shown up yet…)

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Coming Out Party

Every Monday for the past 15 months I have offered a story to help you add a little laughter to your week with a great deal of anonymity.

But things are changing, starting today.

My name is Julie, I live in Lawrence, Kansas (fyi, the best Midewestern College Town EVER!), and – as of today – I have somewhat of a day job as a weekly columnist for our local paper, the Lawrence Journal-World.

Starting today, I will write under the column name "River City Jules" here in Lawrence.

(Click on the happy face with jazz hands to find my debut column for November 16th)

*** J ***

But Weekly Jules is far from over...

My weekly tales will still be here, but because the LJW is actually paying me (more than 11 cents per story, unlike Google AdSense), I am giving them my Mondays and moving Weekly Jules to Wednesdays.

Can’t wait until Monday?

I will update a link on the right sidebar every Monday, and you can read a new story hot off the press on the LJW website. Those who get the paper at home can even see a snazzy picture of me, if the photographer uses the one I liked.

(And then come back on Wednesday too for the regular Weekly Jules story!)

I have more fun planned for us here in blogworld too, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, please know that this is a dream job for me that could not have happened without people like you who love to laugh and who remind me every week that joy is fullest when it is shared.

Plus, you are the smartest, best-looking, most charming group of people ever to read a blog. Don’t you think?

So thank you for sharing in some fun, I look forward to the next leg of the blogging journey!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Are You There, God? It's Me, Jules.

Before there were Amos and Otis and their college athletic scholarships; and before there was my sister (“The Hot One”) and her athletic prowess that earned her a spot on the Junior Varsity soccer team the first year she ever hit a soccer ball; but sometime after my father, the college football player, came to be, there was Jules.

Flat-footed, near-sighted, and unable to leave the house during ragweed season little Jules.

But what I lacked in gross motor skills I made up for in spelling skills, an early love of soap operas, and a knack for winning cakes at the annual grade school carnival. And so my mother insisted they keep me.

By eighth grade, however, I decided to expand my horizons beyond my inhaler and Judy Blume collection, and try out for my school’s volleyball team.

I remember running warm-up laps around the gym, feeling plenty warm halfway around the first lap but being told there was no quit in warm-up, or something like that. I remember the sting of the ball on my forearms and wondering if there were any positions that wouldn’t involve direct contact with the ball. But more than anything, I remember that I made the B squad for our Catholic school’s CYO team.

I was thrilled.

I was an idiot.

I was out of my league.

But, like the saints and martyrs we were taught to emulate at Queen of All that is Good and Holy School, I persevered. The torturous season lasted six weeks (three jammed fingers, one pair of broken glasses, and two menstrual cycles).

Fortunately, I do not remember most of the games. In fact, I had blocked out nearly every play that ever involved me.

Until last week, when my darling middle child, Amelia unwittingly dragged me into reliving one of my most horrific moments of Junior High, as her own CYO volleyball team hosted a Parents vs. Fifth-Graders scrimmage in celebration of their last practice.

(Before I continue I must add that I voluntarily hosted an ice cream party to celebrate the last week, but I must have pissed off karma at some point in a way chocolate delight and Redi-whip could not reconcile.)

Standing opposite the server, a beautiful 10-year-old girl who can already overhand serve like an Olympian, I found myself fighting the urge to curl up fetal as I immediately reverted back to the Great Disaster of ’85…

As usual, Coach had me start the game on the bench. After the other two girls had rotated in, Coach reluctantly called for me to take my place in the center of the back row. We were up 5-2 at the time.

St. Someone School’s player returned our serve with a spike to the empty spot in our side of the court, giving them the ball, which they served directly into the net.

We moved up, 6-3, rotated and served but lost the point, though it was not my fault.

And so it came to pass that I stood opposite the server, a girl who would go on to play college volleyball, but would first find herself with ample opportunity to refine her overhand serve.

Up 6-4, I put myself in the ready position (wringing my hands and praying) as she prepared to serve.

WHAM!

The ball came straight to me. I stared at it all the way to my upper arms, where it ricocheted into the crowd of horrified parents.

6-5.

WHAP!

The ball raced toward me at a speed never before seen. (This was before the age of sports psychology, private trainers, and steroids, mind you.) I couldn’t imagine that ball was going to stay in bounds, so I let it fly by, thanking God for getting me out of that situation with grace and dignity.

Unfortunately the ball was in by three feet.

6-6.

SNAP!

The ball whizzed by my head. Surely this one is out, I remember thinking as it, again, landed three feet in bounds.

6-7, St. Someone. And the pummeling continued.

BOOM!

Off my thumbs.

BOOM!

Bulldozed the six of ten fingers going for the set.

POW!

I one-handed it into the net.

Serve after painful serve flew directly to me. I gave it my all, which consisted of creating and then silently chanting a mantra to boost my self-esteem and hoping Coach would pull me out. It did not, however, consist of returning one single serve within the boundaries of the volleyball court.

Twenty-one points by one server. In a row. A new CYO record had been set, technically by both of us, though she was the only one honored for it.

And so 24 years later (ouch), as I faced off against my 10-year-old opponent at the parent-child scrimmage last week, I began the mantra that eventually got me through the Great Disaster of ’85:

“It’s okay, Jules, just remember. You would kick her butt in a spelling bee.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Little Queen of Hearts

(WARNING: This one is a bit PG-13, and I question my own judgment for posting it)

I am a tremendous fan of the homemade Halloween costume.

Nothing tugs at my heartstrings more than a hand-painted cardboard-box Sponge Bob atop a set of child’s legs standing at my door pleading with me to hand over one of my fun-sized Snickers bars.

And the 6-year-old home-grown hobo will always win the last Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup buried in the bottom of my emergency back-up bowl of candy with which I am usually reluctant to part.

So when my oldest daughter decided she wanted to create her own costume for the Junior High Halloween Dance, I was elated, though I don’t know why.

I remembered constructing some of my own costumes as a kid – a ladybug that ended up looking more like a polka-dotted hunchback, an M&M package constructed out of a garbage bag that simply resembled a garbage bag – and yet, for some reason, had complete faith that my child, my spawn, my own precious offspring would be capable of creating a beautiful (or, at least, recognizable) version of the Queen of Hearts, complete with a hand-designed Queen of Hearts t-shirt, a red tutu, and striped leggings.

Not only did I have faith, I left her home alone with a new white T-shirt and an arsenal of pink puff paint pens while I made a quick trip to the grocery store.

As I cruised through the produce aisle debating what to serve with the carrots and zucchini I had just thrown in my cart, my cell phone rang.

“MOM!” my dear daughter cried, “I MESSED UP MY SHIRT!”

I walked past a basket of French bread in the bakery and proceeded to the donut case so I could focus.

Zeroing in on a row of Long John’s, I tried to calm down my firstborn. “Honey,” I said, “it’s okay. I can help you fix whatever it is you messed up.”

Sob, heave. “No you can’t!” she wailed. “It’s really bad!”

I took a quick glance around the store and decided to move along so as not to draw attention to the drama unfolding.

“Sweetie,” I tried to reassure her, “I promise I can help you. Did you smear the hearts? We can even it out. I’m a pro with the puff paint.”

“You can’t fix it!” She continued to sob, “I really messed it up!”

“Did you mess up the ‘Queen’ part?”

More crying. “Yes, but it’s REALLY BAD!”

“Honey, we can fix – “

“BAD, Mom, it’s REALLY bad!”

“Babe, the shirts are $2.98 at Target,” I tried to reason. “I’ll treat you to a new one if I can’t fix it.”

Some silence. This was promising. “Okay,” she squeaked out.

Sniffle.

“BUT IT’S REALLY BAD!”

We hung up, and I found myself in front of the bratwurst, which was beginning to sound like a good choice. Especially considering I was potentially looking at a trip to Target and would likely need something quick and easy for dinner.

But I never got that far in my thought process. For as soon as I started weighing out the merits of turkey sausage, my phone buzzed again.

Three texts, all photos, all from my daughter.

The first was an ultra-close-up of a bit of smeared pink paint on white cotton.

No big deal, I laughed to myself, I’ve seen bigger messes on permanent tattoos.

The next shot was pulled back slightly, where one of the hearts was close to the smudge mark near the first “e” in “Queen.”

Hmmm, a little more challenging, but we’ll just throw a little red puff paint on it and no one will know any different.

But the final shot confirmed all of my daughter’s fears. Not only had she smeared some paint, but she had free-hand designed a shirt not fit for a girl to wear anywhere within eyeshot of a blossoming teenage boy --- much less to a dark cafeteria full of them.

Yep, messed up.

REALLY BAD.

And that is how I ended up at Target two days before the Halloween party, buying up all the white t-shirts they had in stock and a new tube of puff paint. I'll save this one for her bachelorette party someday. Until then, I'm going to oversee all DIY projects myself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is That a Banana on the Bus or Is It Just Happy to See Me?

Ahh, Halloween, the holiday that conjures up visions of giddy young children frolicking about the neighborhood in search of the one house dishing out full-sized candy bars and average adults dressed up like dead celebrities.

Children high on Nerds and Tootsie Pops are darling and all, and I love an army of teenage mutant transforming X-men marching up and down my street as much as the next mom, almost as much as I cannot wait to see the thrilling throng of Michael Jacksons sure to moonwalk their way around town this year.

But it is revelers like my brother, Otis, who help make Halloween one of my favorite holidays.

Otis lives the happy life of a hot and happenin’ 30-ish-year-old in Chicago. He has a great job, lives a few blocks from Wrigley Field, and can play guitar as late as he wants every night of the week, for Otis has no wife, no fiancĂ©, no live-in girlfriend. (He is a catch, ladies.)

Last year for Halloween, Otis decided (at the last minute, because when one is single one can do anything one chooses on a moment’s notice) (from what I recall) to attend a Halloween party downtown.

Wearing a banana suit, of course, because he lives alone, with no one around to talk him out of it.

Taking a cab from Wrigleyville in a banana suit on Halloween was not a problem. The cabbie did not question him. In fact, he hardly seemed to notice.

Attending a party dressed like a King-Kong-sized banana was not a problem either. Sure, he may have stood out among last year’s many Sarah Palins, but after a few goblets of witch’s brew I imagine he began to blend right in.

No, the problem came the next morning when Otis, still dressed as a banana, woke up at a (female) friend’s house, nowhere near his home. His friend did not pass judgment on Otis for staying overnight on her couch wrapped up in a yellow foam – and surprisingly realistic-looking – peel. That is a true friend. A truer friend would have discretely driven Otis back to his car, but this friend did not own transportation.

The best she could do was loan Otis $2.25 for the bus and send him on his way.

Otis contemplated his next move. While the $2.25 was most helpful, as Otis had left his wallet behind at one of the haunts from the night before, a change of clothes might have come in just as handy.

For some reason, however, the thought of changing into a girl’s clothes was out of the question. That would have completely stripped my brother of his dignity.

And so off to the bus stop Otis went, wearing black tights, a black t-shirt, and an overgrown banana peel.

He arrived at the stop just as the bus was pulling away, taunting him into running after it, waving his arms and yelling, unconcerned with the stares he was receiving on the streets of Chicago in the early hours of November 1st.

Fortunately the bus slowed down, and Otis, the Man-Sized Banana, hopped on, breathing heavy from the short run and was greeted by a busload of awe-struck passengers and one crying toddler.

“They started yelling at me to slow down for the banana,” the bus driver said, pointing to the people behind him.

Otis chose a seat near the middle.

One passenger was sympathetic to his plight, though. A young guy who leaned across the aisle to Otis and simply patted him on the back saying, “It’s okay, man. Everyone’s done the banana walk of shame at some point.”

I like to think there is a special place in heaven for people like Sympathetic Bus Guy.

So remember this year, when November 1st rolls around, to be kind to those still in costume from the night before. For you know not their struggles. But feel free to photograph, otherwise no one will believe your story. Which is why I have just one more detail to add before bidding you a happy, happy Halloween:




Monday, October 19, 2009

Does Not Compute

“Welcome to Seventh Grade Algebra,” Mrs. Houston began. I had been looking forward to Parent Night at the junior high ever since putting Ellie on the bus earlier this fall.

Ellie had been kind enough to let me not only walk her to the bus stop the first day of school, but take her picture at the corner while waiting for the bus as well. Unfortunately the bus showed up a little earlier than scheduled, and I had to leap behind a bush – camera in hand – to avoid being spotted by a busload of seventh graders.

(Ducking behind the bush in the early morning hours wearing my jammies and holding a camera was not nearly as embarrassing as jumping back out after the bus had passed, startling and confusing my poor neighbor who happened to be jogging by that very spot at that very moment.)

Junior High got a lot easier after that first morning, with the exception of one class.

Seventh Grade Algebra.

“Your child has been recommended for this class because he or she excels at math,” she continued.

This statement might have had some element of truth, but just the night before, Ellie and I had both cried over her algebra homework. Neither of us knew what the textbook wanted out of us, and I ended up Googling the instructions for her calculator.

Until then, I had considered myself to be quite bright.

“You should be proud of your child for falling into this category,” she said. “These are the students who will likely go on to be engineers or physicists.”

Physicist? Ellie? I thought. She told me she wants to be a fashion designer...

“Many of these students are smarter than I am,” she explained.

Oh, crap.

“… work for NASA someday… “ umm, Mrs. Houston? We have a problem “… go on to promising careers as adults.”

FASHION DESIGNER!!!

Mrs. Houston seemed oblivious to my dropped jaw and furled brows. “This class puts them on track to be finished with college statistics before they ever even enroll in college.”

She isn’t going to need college statistics to design the skinny jeans of the future. She only needs to be able to convert inches to yards…

“… a lot like Doogie Howser… “

Maybe figure square footage…

“… keep them challenged… “

Like Tim Gunn or Heidi Klum?

“We will cover exponential expression, convergent sequence, and harmonic mean,” she said, as if they were Christmas presents I should look forward to opening. I quickly scanned the room and realized I was the only parent who had lost all coloring in her face.

“… compete in national mathematic… “

… but she’s a real blonde…

“… really, really, really smart… “

… and cute…

“… motivated… “

… and likes makeup…

“… genius level… “

WE HAD TO GOOGLE HOW TO WORK THE @#$% CALCULATOR!

Fortunately Mrs. Houston could not read my thoughts nearly as well as she seemed to be able to integrate and differentiate (I have no clue what that means).

And, as it stands right now, my real genius is pulling a B in the class by sheer willpower and has had exactly one boy ask her over to watch “Star Wars” and play with Legos, confirming that my daughter is in way over her head.