Birthdays are strange in the sense that as we get older, is seems like we have so many so often that they start to lose their luster.
No longer do they represent a special day where people lavish us with gifts for something over which we never had any control — being born. Instead, they represent aging. Deterioration. They turn from something to celebrate into something to dread.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know that I have a soft spot in my heart for people who break convention.
For people who say, “I don’t care what the sheeple want — I want what I want, and if it means that the so-called Rule Makers of the Universe — the Simon Cowells and the Joan Rivers and all of the popular girls in all of the high schools in all of the land — point their snide noses in my direction, then I must be doing something right.”
See, in this world, there are good rules, and there are bad rules.
Good rules, like having to wear seat belts in moving vehicles to we don’t pose a danger to ourselves or others by becoming flailing, rubbery, projectile objects during the event of a collision, help protect us from our own laziness and stupidity.
Bad rules, however, like those that tell us we can’t drink at baby showers and we can’t wear a black shirt with brown boots, only exist because someone who was once the slightest bit influential (and is now likely dead, in rehab, or no longer relevant) once said it out loud.
And puh-leez. Black and brown go with anything. So why wouldn’t they go with each other?
Imagine my excitement when I received an invitation — nay, an order, from the Queen of Hearts herself, to follow the White Rabbit to a “simply mad” tea party wedding, where all of the guests would be wearing vintage inspired clothing and hats.
It was going to be like make-believe for grown ups.
I mean, c’mon. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm to get me to jump down that rabbit hole.
Or any rabbit hole, now that I think about it.
Except maybe a real one.
Hop on in:
The details were out of this world.
I was there, too. Showing off my mad croquet skills.
This is me. Winning.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t have cell phones in Wonderland, people.
Yep. That one’s mine.
This part was way cool. The DJ played music from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and the bride’s parents came out as the King and Queen of Hearts.
Makeup change! She even got her groom to wear the hat for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of AWESOME.
Like photographing Grace Kelly on set.
This “bouquet” must have weighed 35 pounds. It was incredible.
There were only 35-or-so guests at this Alice in Wonderland theme wedding, and each one played along, which really made it magical.
Most people scoffed when the bride told them her plans.
All I can say is, I’m glad they didn’t bring her down.
I think it’s Taylor Swift who sings, “People throw rocks at things that shine.” And shine, that evening did.
And the thing is, I always knew Leah would make a wonderful mother.
But it turns out, Scottie B., that I’m pretty sure you will not be anything less than an exceptional father.
So listen closely, because I’m only going to say this once:
I was wrong.
You’re not not good enough for my cousin.
You — the two of you — and now the three — are completely,
(Unrelated side note: I re-vamped the site and there will soon be some changes. The most unfortunate side effect is that you have probably lost your email subscription if you had one. If so, please go to the top right corner of the page, just below the header and menu where it says “Subscribe to Blog Via Email.” THAT’S where you go to re-subscribe. And I’m not saying it will hurt my feelings if you don’t, but it might turn me into an emotional puddle of helplessness. So. If you don’t put your email in that box and hit “subscribe,” all that’s on you. Okay, so apparently I wasn’t very diligent in my research earlier, and I have now been able to transfer all of my email subscribers to my new site. So you’re off the hook. You’re welcome. Unfortunately, it’s still looking like any of my followers from WordPress.com (you know who you are) will have to use the email subscribe option in the top right corner of this page if you want to keep getting updates. And, you know… I’ll miss you if you don’t.)
I’m one of those lucky people who has someone who has my back.
It’s easy, when you have it, to take it for granted. But I have it. And I’m not trying to rub it in, but I think you should know. It’s kind of important if you want to know me.
I’m not going to lie and say we always understand each other.
I’m not going to lie and say we’re always on the same page or even, sometimes, in the same book.
But I’m also not going to lie and say he’s not one of the good ones — the kind who calls when he says he’ll call. The kind who stays sober so you have a safe ride home. The kind who cooks you dinner and rubs your back and somehow manages to turn you into a hugger when hugging used to make you feel all awkward and gangly and boob-pressy.
Sometimes I think I don’t know who he really is, and that scares me.
But it also keeps things interesting.
He’s my rock and my hard place.
Infuriating sometimes, because he can’t read my mind and I don’t know why.
All I do know is that 31 years ago, the world was graced with this:
(This side isn’t so bad, either):
And those of us who get to experience him, no matter how brief or how long, should consider ourselves pretty damn lucky, indeed.
Apparently I can expect a big, fat lump of coal in my stocking this year, because apparently I have not been a good girl.
In fact, not only am I writing this post on stolen property (this is Justin’s computer — mine is still kaput), but I’m also obsessed with sex and swearing.
This is what I’m told.
But the good news is, it’s not my fault.
Really, it all started with my mom’s vagina.
The Scene: Thanksgiving Day, 2011. My little sister’s adorable apartment is filled with smells from holidays past. Her culinary skills unthwarted by working with limited tools and nonexistent lighting, the turkey has been roasted to a goldeny perfection, and it’s literally oozing the butter and garlic she’s been injecting into it for the past 6 hours.
Our table is tiny, but it has all the necessities: Four plates full of Kelly’s avian delicacy, skin-on smashed potatoes, green bean casserole with fresh green beans, some kind of awesome stuffing I can’t even begin to describe, Mom’s homemade gravy, and my completely out of this world sweet potato casserole.
Except one plate — my brother’s plate — is missing the casserole.
I don’t want to talk about it.
But we also have wine. It’s good wine, and everything feels okay thus far because Ma had only just arrived, right on time to make her famous gravy using primitive cookware and completely sans tupperware shaker, oh miracle of miracles, and this night in Fort Lauderdale is the first time the 4 of us have been together in as many years. In fact, it’s the first time the 4 of us have been together unsupervised ever, I’m pretty sure.
I fill Ma’s glass.
So this is a family dinner, it dawns. The conversation is pleasant. We jibe and cajole — the things families do when it’s been a while, and the laughter is real. I look around the table and think about how different we all are, yet somehow the same. We siblings have the same sense of humor — it’s crass. But we make no apologies because life, after all, is too short. The humor must be genetic because we weren’t together long enough to learn it. Joel basically grew up alone with my mother, spending time with his father according to whatever arrangements the grown-ups had made, and then eventually my dad comes along, and Joel’s stepmother, and new families are created and he’s kind of stuck there in the middle dealing with that and who knows whatever else teenage boys deal with when the world is at its most confusing. He escaped when he was 17.
I managed to float through adolescence with nary a scratch. My father moved us to Nebraska (from Minnesota) when I was in 7th grade. I was awkward, to be sure — I never went to prom or involved myself fully at school, though my grades were superb. I flipped burgers when I was 15, then learned about the world of “white-collar” work when I accepted a 30-hour/week position at Best Buy during high school. Ironically, my co-workers at the one job for which I’ve ever had to submit to a urine test are the co-workers who taught me to smoke from a water bong. And the rest is a bit of a blur, until I emerged from the haze to attend college in Ohio, near-but-not-too-close to Joel.
Kelly is tough. Though only 4 1/2 years apart, it might has well have been the world for how little we knew each other. It seemed we were always pitted against one another — brains (me) versus beauty (her) in an all-out battle of who’s-gonna-make-it-out-of-this-with-an-ounce-of-self-esteem-intact? I’m pretty sure most women can relate.
We weren’t close. But then I ditched her for college, and somehow we became close, through the distance. And then when Dad left but didn’t physically leave, an event that gave our mom a proverbial eye twitch — a twitch that must have somehow sent electrical signals to the place in depths of her brain where all logic exists and shorted a fuse and suddenly everything was emotion — all emotion, all the time (can you really blame her?), Kelly begged me to come home. So I quit school, told Dad to move out, provided tissues for Ma’s spirals, and tried to convince Kelly that everything would be okay. That really, whose parents don’t get divorced anymore? But, at age 16, the damage had been done.
I’m pretty sure none of them remember any of it. That haze was far more potent than anything I might have smoked in high school.
But we emerged, mostly, and while the stale stench still lingers, we’re all creating lives. Pretty good ones, at that.
So we’re sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table and I’m thinking about how the lines between blood and upbringing are blurry, for sure, and I realize it’s strange how the lives of 3 siblings could have been so diverse when, after all, we all came from the same vagina.
So I say just that.
Only without all of the background context and qualifiers, so it just comes out as, “Isn’t it weird that we all came from the same vagina?”
Sometimes my thoughts run ahead of my mouth and the actual words can’t keep up, so they paraphrase.
It doesn’t always work out.
For a moment everyone is quiet, of course, because who doesn’t want to take a moment to contemplate a thought like that while eating roasted turkey with cranberry stuffing and mom’s gravy and — “EWWWWWW!” (From my brother and sister simultaneously.)
Ma just looks at me — that knowing look — and says, “Katie, I know why you’re so obsessed with sex and swearing.”
Really? This is news to me. I mean, I like sex, and I have been known to cuss inappropriately from time to time (maybe more in front of Mom because I know it bugs her), but now I’m obsessed? This is how it works? You mention your mom’s vagina ONE time at the dinner table, and suddenly you’re a maniac? And certainly, while I mentioned a certain unmentionable body part, I was definitely not talking about sex.
“And I know it’s my fault,” she continued.
Now I’m intrigued. Because, while I’d argue ceaselessly about her use of the word “obsessed,” I’m willing to put that on hold to hear this.
“Well. Remember when I bought those DVD’s?” she asked, her voice losing its laughter and growing somber. “Those… Sex and the City DVD’s?”
“And you asked if you could watch them? And I let you, even though I hadn’t seen them yet?”
“And then, when I finally watched them, I couldn’t believe I’d let you watch them…”
Is this really happening?
“And now you’re obsessed with sex and swearing and it’s all my fault!”
I’m pretty sure, at that point, that some cranberry stuffing flew out my nose. We laughed. But hard.
“Well,” I retorted while taking a sip of my wine, “thank God I became an alcoholic too, so I could deal with all of the trauma! The trauma that was undoubtedly caused by Sex and the City!”
I mean, duh. Obviously it’s Carrie Bradshaw’s fault.
In fact, I’m pretty sure this excuse will now work for everything:
Do you remember the time when I was maybe 6-years-old and you asked if I wanted to play hide-and-seek? My panic-stricken little mind wildly inventoried the best possible hiding spots while you slowly counted to 100, the anticipatory inflection at the end of each number causing my excited-yet-scared heartbeat to increase to an unprecedented pace.
Scrambling to the cobweb-infested basement, I mustered all of my bravery to worm myself into a zippered laundry bag and what was ultimately the best hiding spot in the history of ever, where, upon your imminent failure to find me and my subsequent failure to work the zipper back down, archaeologists would discover my body in 200 years and conclude that I was the young victim of a heinous crime, not recognizing that they’d just discovered the remains of the hide-and-seek champion of the world.
“Ninety-eight…ninety-nine… ONE HUNDRED!” I heard you yell from the top of the stairs.
“Are you ready?” you called, and I could tell by your voice that you were nervous that you’d lose this battle of wits to your dear baby sister who surely had the superior mental capacity combined with an advantageous small body frame to best you at the very game you taught her.
“Yes!” I called, my voice muffled by the fabric.
“Are you sure?” you asked. Ahh. You wanted to play fair – to ensure I’d found the best possible place so that, if you had to lose, you could lose like a gentleman, knowing the victor had earned her spot in the Hall of Hide-and-Seek Champions.
“Yes!” I assured you, giggling at the thought of you searching for hours, possibly calling Mom for help once the panic set in and you thought you’d lost me for good.
“Are you really sure?” your voice yelled even louder.
“Yesss!” I yelled. Are you seriously this deaf, or is my hiding place just so awesome that it’s difficult to hear me?
“Are you really really sure?”
“YES!” I screamed, my frustration getting the better of my lady-like charm.
“BOO!” you yelled as the zipper flew open and I screamed in surprise. And then you laughed. You laughed in my face after you CHEATED while playing hide-and-seek with a 6-year-old girl.
In the 20+ years since, it seems like we’ve made amends. It appears as though we’ve gotten past your silly teenage antics and can treat each other like adults.
But I think you should know… I’ve just been biding my time.
Waiting for the day I’d taste the sweet nectar of revenge on my patient little tongue.
And today, dear brother, is that day.
The day that I can finally, with all the zest and spirit of a 6-year-old girl shouting, “I’m definitely ready!” across the vast and very public arena of the internet, say to you:
This person isn’t necessarily your soul mate. Not necessarily your lover. This person is… something else.
Someone you can’t. get. rid. of.
That’s right – I’m talking about friends by default. Or maybe it just starts out that way. Initially, you might be drawn together due to circumstances beyond your control. But it doesn’t take long for the dynamic to change. You no longer simply acknowledge the other’s presence in your life – you begin to like and, Fates willing, expect it.
This isn’t just a friend or a short-lived acquaintance. You can go for months, sometimes even years, without speaking – not due to any particular reason or rift, but simply for the perfectly understandable fact that life occasionally gets in the way – and then carry on right where you left off when one of you finally makes the call.
It’s like no time passed at all.
Is there a word for these people?
I’m fortunate because my life is filled with people like this.
People like Alaina. (Remember her kitchen? I finally have the “after” pictures. They’re burning a hole in my email right now.)
Alaina and I came together out of necessity. She needed a roommate and I needed a place to live. But we stayed together, long after I moved out, through mutual co-dependency.
The emotional kind.
We lived together at college in Ohio. Her parents “adopted” me, taking me in for various holidays and family weekends since I was so far from home. I moved back to Nebraska during my sophomore year to help with some family things and take a 5,500 mile road trip. You know, normal stuff. Alaina finished school in Ohio. I moved to Georgia, finished my degree, and got married. She moved an hour away to Florida and earned her Master’s. Then Alaina moved to North Carolina and got married. I moved an hour away to North Carolina and bought a house. She stayed in North Carolina and bought a house and got pregnant. I stayed in North Carolina and…. well sorry Mom, I’m not sure I want to follow her there.
But my point is, Alaina and I take turns following each other through life’s milestones. We are meant to be. We don’t have to try. Our relationship just is.
And I have to say, when I think about it, that’s one of the best feelings in the world.
Congratulations, Alaina and Dirk! Our lives are about to change again, and I’m so happy I get to be a part of it.
*I really, really, really wanted to use the baby bump picture, but I’m fairly certain Alaina would cut me off from things like finished kitchen photos, basil mayo with sweet potato fries, “mom” and “dad” and their Tennessee Snot wine, and, most important, my soon-to-be niece or nephew. And who can live without Tennessee Snot?
That’s right, folks – In an effort to maintain the lovely little tradition Erin started a couple of weeks ago, it’s time to plaster the internet with grainy (and hopefully somewhat embarrassing) photos from Erin’s youth.
Well, exactly 29 years ago TODAY, sunny-smiled, freckle-faced, chipmunk-cheeked baby Erin graced the world with her presence.
Okay, she wasn’t quite THIS big when she pushed her way in, but you get the idea.
And she’s been wreaking havoc ever since.
Don’t let the innocent baby face fool you. She may have appeared timid at first…
But with 2 older brothers, it didn’t take her long to learn the merits of pure intimidation.
(And it’s clear she hasn’t changed much over the years.)
Compassionate and caring, she’s never been afraid to try walking in someone else’s shoes.
Ever the outdoor-enthusiast, she doesn’t let the elements get in her way.
It’s ALWAYS important to travel with the proper gear.
And her patriotic support of our nation began long before she married a military man.
What’s more patriotic than a tri-corner hat?
Her appreciation for fine cuisine stemmed from an early age as well…
This is why I had to padlock our fridge in Costa Rica.
Along with her insatiable passion for travel to unknown lands.
I will go where no baby has gone before.
You’d think that after 29 years on this planet, a person might change. But looking at these photos from her childhood, it’s clear that Erin still is and always will be the compassionate, adventurous, wanderlust, food-loving girl she was when she first pushed her way into this world.
And while her brother Kevin knows she needs a little help forcing her way through a concert crowd from time to time, we all have to admit that she’s been doing a pretty damn good job of forging her own way through the world ever since.
His name is James Dudley Valentine (seriously, how cool do you have to be to have the middle name Valentine?), but pretty much everyone who knows him calls him “Pop”.
I would tell you his last name but I don’t want to run the risk of you maybe deciding you want him to be your Pop, too. And you might be younger and cuter and a better grandchild than I am and I wouldn’t be able to compete. And then I’d have to make you mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night.
Beware, I am a possessive granddaughter.
Besides, Pop doesn’t need any more admirers. He has a big enough fanbase as it is.
Everyone who meets him seems to fall in love with him. Maybe it’s his charm. Maybe it’s his years and years of experience as an accomplished salesman. Maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a cross between Ernest Hemingway, a salty sea captain and Santa Claus.
Am I right??
Whatever it is, the man has what can only be described as charisma, which explains how he managed to woo my bombshell of a grandmother.
He is 91 years young and, at the rate he’s going, 20 years from now he’ll still be mowing the lawn and shoveling through five feet of Wisconsin snow while the rest of us shuffle around in orthopedic shoes and complain about draughts.
He attributes his longevity to the fact that he drinks Scotch on the rocks pretty much all day long.
(Did I mention we’ve got a lot of Irish in our family?)
My Pop is the kind of guy who jokes after a meal, “Your food has ruined my appetite.”
My Pop is the kind of guy who quips, “Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you.”
My Pop is the kind of guy who mentions that the last truly good movie he saw was Stalag 17 (which, for the record, came out in 1953) every single time I see him.
My Pop is the kind of guy who challenges us grandkids to a one-yard foot race.
My Pop is the kind of guy who doesn’t get mad when I barf up Cap’n Crunch all over the backseat of his Jaguar.
To be fair, I was only six at the time. But still, classy guy, no?
Perhaps one of the best qualities about my Pop is that he has a joke or a song for every single conceivable situation. You could be shipwrecked on a deserted island with Alec Baldwin and 200 shipments of Crest toothpaste and he would have the perfect song to commemorate the occasion. It’s a talent, pure and simple.
It doesn’t hurt that he has a lovely singing voice, and he sings his brooding Irish ballads in a smooth and resonant tenor. My Dad inherited his pipes, but somehow that gene skipped me, laughing and pointing as it passed by. Dang.
With all of these traits, it’s no wonder he’s quite the stud.
Young or old, the ladies just can’t resist his charm.
Here we are on my wedding day…
…where he pretty much stole the show. But I’m OK with that.