Santa's not so secret

Alice (3 years old) and Jane (21 months old) have gone to the same fantastic daycare since they were infants. The daycare's owner teaches the pre-K class. Her parents live two houses down, and since they retired years ago, they often help out in the classrooms. They have become the surrogate grandparents to all of the kids, known to everyone as Nana & Pa.

During the holidays, some teachers take vacation, so Pa helps cover in different rooms during the busy dropoffs in the morning. He also plays the role of Santa each year at the Christmas parties - beard & all.

Since I work full-time, I'm never able to go to the Christmas daycare party. This year, no exception. But this morning, I finally heard from Jane's teacher about her laugh-out-loud moment at their class party last week.

Pa was making the rounds of each room in his Santa outfit, and all the kids were suitably wowed by "Santa" and greeting him with "Hey, Santa!" When he reached Jane's room, the teachers all said, "Hi, Santa! Look kids, it's Santa!" and some of the kids responded with squeals of "Santa!" The teacher told me Jane, with a big grin on her face then piped up, "Hey, Pa."

Shoot. That didn't last long.


That's All Right, Mama

I don't remember exactly when it first started, but one day in my early teens, I accidentally caught a replay of Elvis's 1968 comeback special on TV - the one with the tight black leather - and I remember being absolutely fascinated by the acoustic circle at the start of the show.  I watched the next hour in awe of the man.  His voice.  His grin.  Those hips.  My god, he could sing and dance.  

Keep in mind, when I was in high school, Top 40 consisted mainly of people scowling at MTV.  So to have this beautiful hunk of slicked-back hair unabashedly grinning at the ladies and gyrating onstage and singing his heart out - well, it was like a siren song.  And it worked.

My family occasionally packed up the car for a 13-hour drive to see our grandparents.  I used to beg my parents for a quick stop in Memphis to see Graceland.  They NEVER said yes.  Mom always claimed Elvis Presley was ultra cheesy, and she was never a fan.  Dad pretty much nodded in agreement with her.  I was only 5 years old when he died.  Ultimately it felt like I was really missing out on something big.

Fast forward to meeting Brian, and after several months of dating, we planned a vacation together.  We were going to drive 12 hours to meet his parents, and along the way, spur of the moment, I suggested we stop to see Graceland.  He said, "Sure, I'd love to."  I think that was the beginning of something beautiful for us, that moment.  Or maybe it was me.  Yeah, probably just me.

Fifteen years and $25 later, I finally confirmed that my parents deliberately deprived me of one of life's most memorable tourist experiences.

This is my picture at the gates of Graceland.  I don't have any from inside the house - photography is strictly forbidden.  So I'll try to describe it in a nutshell for those who haven't been.  Elvis died in 1977, shortly after much of the house had been updated, and it is permanently preserved as he left it.  Which means, take the avocado green refrigerator and the harvest gold oven/stove you found in every home in America in 1977, and then match the counters and wallpaper and carpet with the wildest colors you can imagine, complete with the 1970's wood paneling, AND THAT'S JUST THE KITCHEN, Y'ALL.  

Elvis's parents both lived with him at Graceland.  Driving up to the front door, you can't help but think, "Wow.  He was like the biggest music star on the planet, and he lived in this tiny little house with his parents?"  It looks just like an average home from the front yard.  But it's like going through that tiny door in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory - it's enormous on the inside.  He expanded at the back of the house, and finished the basement, and built a huge playroom in the backyard, so you can't see it all from the front.  

When you enter the house, the living room is on the right, and dining room is on the left, and the stairwell is right in front of you.  The living room has a large grand piano in it.  Keep going down the hall, and his parents' bedroom is behind the living room on the right.  I cannot imagine the racket they heard regularly at all hours, with Elvis entertaining the entourage on the piano.  Beyond their bedroom on the left is the kitchen, and it was standing in the kitchen, listening to the audio tour on a pair of headphones, when I glanced over at one of the cabinets and promptly had a heart attack.

My grandmother had passed away about two years prior to my vacation at Graceland, and cleaning out her apartment, my mom asked if I would take her dishes.  They were classic grandma dishes, a set called Franciscanware, a pattern with apples on it that everyone remembers.  Since all I owned were some cheap Pier 1 dishes, and I was already a huge sucker for the sentiment of handed-down dishes, I said "Sure!" and took it all home.  Nana had most of the serving pieces for this set.  I am pretty sure I was the only 29-year old girl on the planet who had never married, but had a full china service with a matching butter dish, coffee pot, sugar and creamer, plus the gravy boat and turkey platter.  

Anyway, two years later I was standing in Elvis's kitchen, with my hands fluttering and my heart pounding, and I managed to squeak out to Brian, who was standing behind me, "I ... have ... Elvis's ... dishes!"

Not Nana's dishes.  ELVIS PRESLEY'S DISHES.  That glass-front cabinet housed those same apple plates and cups, and I remember seeing a teapot, too.  I could have reached over and opened the cabinet and taken that teapot, and possibly even one or two steps before security would have had me pinned to the floor. 

Folks, every time I look at that picture of me standing at the gate to his house, I picture Elvis eating his famous peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the same plates that I use to serve my family's dinner.  I knew I liked that guy.  I knew I needed to tour his house.  I knew my purchase of his CD of #1 hits would not be a waste of money.  And someday, my girls will know all the words to "That's All Right, Mama."  Even better, one day, the three of them will be arguing over who gets to take Elvis's dishes.


Has it been 9 years? Really?

I tweeted about this idea earlier this week, but I've had an opportunity over the past few months to dig into my old scrapbooks, and I'm reminded that some of these pictures have some great stories behind them.  A few of these pictures are old, but some are recent.  I am going to spend some time blogging these stories so I don't forget them.  I hope you enjoy this series. 

Nine years ago in September, my sister called me from Guatemala.  She had spent the year tying up loose ends with her life in the US - leaving her job, selling her home, putting some of her stuff in storage - to go work in an orphanage.  She had traveled there several times with her church for missions work, and one day she announced to her family that she felt called to work with these kids.  Her job would be working in a dorm with pre-teen girls.  She spent most of the summer fundraising for living expenses for her first year away from home.  I threw her a going away party with her family and friends, and went to the airport to say goodbye.  She left right after 9/11, so we all said goodbye near the McDonalds by the security gate.  I vowed to get a passport so I could visit.

About two weeks later, one Sunday afternoon when I was just hanging around the apartment, she called me from Guatemala.  I knew these calls would be rare so I was surprised to get one so soon.  "Jennie," she said, "I'm engaged."  I remember my response was, "To WHO?"  Seriously, I had spent months working with her to get everything taken care of so she could move, and not once had she mentioned a boyfriend.  For the life of me I could not figure out what guy in her life could have possibly proposed.

But apparently, she had met a guy on some of those missions trips.  His name was Steve, and he had moved to Guatemala from Ohio, and was taking care of a dorm full of toddler boys.  They had become close friends over the summer - apparently they talked a lot as she was preparing to move - and he had proposed shortly after she moved down there.  Hmm.

The next thing she said was that the wedding was going to be in 2 months, at the beginning of November, and they would not be able to handle planning from so far away, and since I was in town, would I please take care of arranging everything?  

I'll blog more about this in future entries, but at the age of 30, this WAS my wheelhouse.  Not weddings, mind you, I'd never done that before - but throwing together a shindig for a couple hundred people - including my sister and a future brother-in-law that I don't know - I'm all over it.  Sure.  No pressure, I've got this.

I'm pretty sure I was making lists about 5 minutes after the call, but wow.  It was a whirlwind of spending my parents' money and a billion phone calls.  Thank god I had an understanding co-worker and boss who let me work on this.  

This picture was taken at the rehearsal dinner.  I called the future-brother-in-law's mom, who lived in Ohio and also needed on-the-ground assistance with party planning (of course), and we ended up at the local Copeland's in a banquet room.  Taking the whole French Quarter-New Orleans-Mardi Gras theme to the logical conclusion, I put masks and beads on the tables, and I had gold, green and purple balloons everywhere.  Guests were encouraged to have a great time.  There was a toast, and I think I remember a few of the hurricanes.  It was an amazing weekend, one that I felt proud to pull off in such a short time.   To commemorate my time spent planning their special day, my sister gave me a clock, which I still have on my mantel today.

Happy anniversary to both of you this weekend.  As you celebrate in New Orleans this weekend, here's to many, many more years together.  


Actually, We Knew You Pretty Darn Well, by the end.

Max Brown-Wyatt, 1995-2011.

First, a few fun stories about Max that I never will forget:

1 - Several years ago when I was still single, my friend Christine came over to my place for dinner with her boyfriend John.  As was his normal custom, he sat down in my living room to watch some college football while Christine & I chatted in the kitchen.  Coming out to check on him, I saw that my cat Max had jumped into his lap.  This was also normal - any time someone sat down, Max would magically appear to take over the lap.  But it seemed to happen to John all the time - I had seen this happen with Christine's kitties, another friend's cat, my sister's cat, and now Max.  Without really thinking about, I called out to John, "What, have you got like a giant cat magnet in your pants?"  

John looked up at me slowly, and grinned.  

People like to mock me.  I get it.  I think I make it easy for them.

2 - When Max was about a year old, I left a package of chicken to thaw in the sink while I was at work.  I came home from work that evening, and for once, Max was not there to greet me at the door.  I put my stuff away and went to search for him.  I finally located him under the bed with that package of chicken upside down in front of him.  He had chewed through one corner of the styrofoam and had chewed on some of the raw chicken.  

I panicked and called the emergency vet clinic to find out if he would be okay.  General advice was "if he acts funny, bring him in."  Okay.  So I headed back to the bedroom, where Max was still camped under the bed.  As I reached in and dragged him out, I noticed he had a bag of hamburger buns behind him (they were on the counter as well).  He had chewed through the plastic bag and gnawed on the bread.

Essentially, the boy made himself a chicken sandwich while I was at work.  I was pretty impressed by the sheer strength he had to drag all of that out of the sink, down the hall and under the bed.  He felt guilty enough to stay in hiding, too.  What a cat.  I laughed all night about that one.

3 - I lived at home with my parents for almost a year in my mid-20's.  This was the absolutely dream home for my cat.  Lots of windows, 3 times the lap potential, and "grandparents" who brought him toys from the grocery store, EVERY SINGLE TRIP.  There was also a screened-in porch where he would camp out all day and check out the birds and trees and bugs and even tiny lizards that would crawl up the brick and slide between the wood posts on the deck.  But I was in strong denial that he was eating them - I really thought he was carrying them like toys and playing with them.  One day he came racing inside from the porch with a lizard tail dangling from his mouth.  I ran after him upstairs to discover half of a lizard on the bathroom floor.  He was pretty ticked at me for taking it away, and I quickly realized why I could only find HALF a lizard.  I interrupted a tasty afternoon snack for my carnivore pet.  Shortly after that, Taco Bell came out with their Godzilla movie tie-in commercials, where the chihuaha would say, "Here, lee-zard, lee-zard."  My dad used to say that to Max, just to get me riled up.  Max was a pretty good hunter, though.  He dashed the hopes of more than a few lizards that year.

Back to the present - 

After 6 months of sliding downhill, I finally came to terms with the fact that Max was not getting any better.  He took a big turn for the worse over the past 2 weeks by basically not eating.  His weight dropped considerably, and he spent his days and nights camped out on my kitchen counter.  Clearly, he was trying to get my attention by staying at eye level.  I came to the realization last night that I needed to do something sooner rather than later.  I made an appointment this afternoon to take him to the vet.

Today I got to explain the Circle of Life to a 6-year old, just in time for the appointment.  I'm sure all of us can remember the first loss of a pet in our childhood, and you may also remember that it took you about 10 minutes to ask when the family would be getting a new one.  Helen stayed on script.  After crying a good bit of the morning, she calmed down in time for the short trip, but then melted down again in the parking lot.  And in the vet's office.  As hard as it was for her, I was so glad she was with me because I could spend my time focusing on making sure she understood what was happening, and why, and helping to comfort her.  Later, she told me that she thought I was brave.  I know sometimes the best thing you can give a pet is the gift of freedom from pain and suffering.  But it still is a tough choice to make, when you'd rather have them around.

We've picked out a couple of nice spots in the backyard and plan to decorate a rock to mark it.  I think the tears might take some time to taper off.  Helen, on the other hand, seems to be almost cheerful about the art project.  Kids heal so much faster, don't they?

But I really feel sorry for all the lizards Max is chasing right now.  I'm pretty sure they all packed up and headed south for the winter this afternoon, when he arrived on the scene.

Goodbye, Maxer-buddy.  You were a champion among pets, and it will be very hard to fill your paws.



Okay, so a few weeks ago Jane's normally sparse hair started growing in an alarming pattern.  She sprouted two tufts of hair on either side of the back of her head.  From the back, it just looks - odd.  And from the front, it looks like a mullet.  Sometimes when I show up at daycare, I find out that her teachers have braided them or put them into the world's tiniest pigtails.  I don't know if they're laughing or trying to cover for her, bless her heart.

I'm tempted to cut them off and let the middle try to catch up, but I don't know what's coming next.  Mohawk?  Logan from X-Men?  And then suddenly I'm reminded of that line:  "Is this where you wanna be when Jesus comes?  Makin' fun of Joe Dirt?"

So you tell me - cut it?  Or leave it alone?  


Don't Judge Me

Several years back, a two-year old Helen came home from daycare and told me in a hushed and serious tone, "Mom. Boys have privates, and girls have cha-chas." Fighting back the giggles, I replied just as seriously, "Yes ma'am, that's right."  She told me one her teachers used that word, and I thought, she's two. I am so not ready for this yet. So ever since that day, for our girls, lady parts have been referred to as "cha-chas." Kind of fun, yeah?

But it sure makes a season of "Dancing With the Stars" a very confusing time in our house.


Alice speaks

Boy howdy.  Not only does she speak, the girl is SASSY.

Parents of 3-year olds, I know you will relate to this story.  Getting her dressed one morning, it was a bit colder last week than it has been in a while.  So I pulled out a pair of Helen's hand-me-down jeans and one knee had a hole in it.  Alice was not impressed, but the rest of her playclothes were in the laundry and I was scraping the bottom of the drawer to put together this outfit.  So I went into it brightly, and optimistically.  

Jennie:  Alice, look!  Here's a pair of jeans that Helen used to wear!  They've got this cool thing in the knee and they're like rock star jeans!

Alice:  (sadly) I don't want to wear those!

Jennie:  Come on, Alice, let's get dressed.  Mommy's in a hurry.  The jeans are fine, you will love them.

Alice:  (more insistently, starting to cry)  I don't want to wear those pants.

Jennie:  But they're rock star jeans!

Alice:  (Loudly, still crying)  They're not rock star jeans!  (shouting) They're.  Just.  Pants!

PS - Guess who has 2 thumbs and won the fight?  (POINTS AT SELF WITH BOTH THUMBS)  The one who can type AND spell it right, that's who.