Thursday, October 24, 2013

Talkin' 'Bout My "Jen"eration

I'm off work today, preparing to chaperone my son's field trip and contemplating my mortality.*

*I feel the two are somehow related.

When I turned 40. . .ummm. . .a few years ago. . .I was woefully unprepared for the paradigm shift that would occur in my life.  People inundate you with tales of crow's feet and increased cancer risk and Colonial Penn applications appearing in your mailbox like some shitty gift from Alex Trebek, but no one tells you how it really is.  No one looks beyond the whole morbid "well, I'm halfway to death" spiel to nut up and tell you the God's honest truth about turning 40.  So, pull up a chair kiddies, because Auntie Jen is about to throw down some veracity, old-school style.  Ready?  Here goes. . .


True statement.  Lately I've noticed a lot of articles on the Huff Post and Buzz Feed about how turning 40 is about as pleasant as being waterboarded by Dick Cheney while listening to Fran Drescher read the collected works of Shakespeare, but personally?  I.  Call.  Bullshit.

A friend of mine is turning 40 on Sunday. . .

*We are throwing him a Joss Whedon themed party.  If you don't know who Joss Whedon is, click here.  Actually, if you don't know who Joss Whedon is, self-flagellate for an hour, then get thee to a Netflix.

. . .and I don't feel that the man is properly prepared for the level of awesome that awaits.  So, as my gift to you, Nathan. . .

*And, yeah, I did get you an ACTUAL gift as well, so don't be thinking I'm all cheap and shit.

. . .I give you, my list of "The Best Things About Turning 40"  (copyright pending)

1. Your hormones get totally jacked-up, but in a completely magical way.  Suddenly your moods get uber-regulated, your hair gets all thick and Pantene-girl shiny, and you are horny 24 hours a day.  It's like going through puberty again except now you don't have acne, and you can buy beer.  Huzzah!

2. This is where the rubber meets the road with your friendships.  Shit's gonna get real in your 40's.  Life-changing stuff like mortgage payments and divorces and that weird mole on your back that the doctor wants to "take a second look at".  This is when you are going to look around and see who was really there for you through all of it.  Who you could call at 3:00 am when you have a panic attack, who will sit in your hospital room for nine hours after your surgery, who will openly disagree with you on a Seahawks play.*

*Because, seriously?  That pass was totally catchable.

This is the era where the drinking buddies and Facebook/Twitter/Instagram "friends" are replaced by the real-life ones.  This is when you find your tribe.

3. Your "Give A Shit-O-Meter" goes from low to non-existent.  Am I still alive?  Check.  Do I have a roof over my head?  Check.  After that, everything else is gravy.

4. When you're in your 40's and not fabulously wealthy, the odds of you being kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and/or held in a sociopath's cellar having lotion lowered to you in a basket are significantly lowered.  So, you've got that goin' for you. . .which is nice.*

*Ten points of street cred to whomever caught that reference.  Five extra points if you don't throat punch me for being a pompous douche for using the word "whomever".

5.  Your 40's are when you turn off the headlights and start looking out the rearview mirrors.  Suddenly, life becomes less about searching for what you want and ruing what you don't have, and more about reflecting on everything you've accomplished.  "Good enough" is finally good enough.

6. Your teen years are angst-ridden, your 20's are laughable, your 30's will make you want to guzzle Dran-O, your 40's are when you realize all of that and can laugh at the first 39 years of your life instead of feeling remorse or regret.

7. Sex is better in your 40's than it has ever been.  Partly because you aren't afraid to say "That ain't workin', Babe", partly because you are no longer self-conscious about the size of your ass, and partly because the odds of an unplanned pregnancy in your less-than-fertile years is practically nil.  And, for whatever reason, this is also the era where 20-somethings with a Sugar Daddy/Stifler's Mom fantasy will come crawling out of the woodwork to get their freak on.  Be prepared. 

8. You learn to forgive.  All of the wrongs done to you by others made you who you are today and that person is pretty goddamned amazing, so let it go.  And, most of all, forgive yourself.  Whatever you did in the past was done for a reason -- either to teach you a lesson or make you a better person through healing.  Embrace it.  Own your shit.

9.  You learn how to keep a secret and how to be discreet.  You sleep with a girl in her 20's and she'll tag a naked photo of your ass on Facebook, give it an Instagram filter, and tweet that bad boy to everyone on the world wide web.  You sleep with a woman in her 40's and she'll be too damned busy to mention it to anybody.  Hell, she probably won't even let you sleep over.

10. You become less critical.  Unless you're discussing The New York Jets or Baz Luhrmann films, because, seriously?  'Moulin Rouge'?  Just. . .fuck you, Baz.

11.  Hangovers will hit you like Chris Brown on Rihanna.  You will wake up after two gin and tonics feeling like you just got cornholed by Optimus Prime and praying to everyone from Jesus to L. Ron Hubbard to make the pain go away.  I mention that this is a "good thing" because it is God's way of telling you to slow down before your liver is jutting through your navel.  Your body is a little less forgiving at this age so start treating it more like a temple and less like a strip club on payday.

12.  The smallest things make you happier than Jerry Sandusky at a Cub Scout Jamboree.  No longer do you require mind-altering substances to get high.  Almost overnight, hearing a child laugh will make you feel like you just did a bump of Colombian marching powder, and a really good song on the radio will have you higher than a bowl of North Slope trip weed.  As your tolerance for bullshit lowers, your appreciation for goodness sky-rockets.  Not that you'll go all Leo Buscaglia and start running around hugging everybody. . . 

*Because I know you and you're way too cynical for that shit and that's why I hang with you.

. . .but you will become more altruistic, and start seeing that everyone truly is good at heart.  Just like Anne Frank, only with more social interaction, and. . .fewer Nazis.

13.  Raymond Chandler was 44 when he wrote his first novel.  Alan Rickman got his first movie role at 46.  Roget was 73 when he created the thesaurus.  Colonel Harlan Sanders started KFC at age 66.  Julia Child didn't learn to cook until she was 40.  And the great Stan Lee drew his first comic when he was 43.  Success has no age limit.  It's never too late to accomplish your dream.

On Saturday, we will celebrate your birthday, Nathan.  Not as a "congratulations on not dying for a year", but more as a homecoming.  You are about to join the ranks of the 40-somethings.  We may not have a handshake or a secret password or a member's only jacket...

*Although we're all old enough to remember Member's Only jackets.

. . .but we do have a kinship.  We've all lived through the hostage situation in Iran ("Argo" to the youngsters out there), 8-track tapes, the explosion of the Challenger, the Jager-soaked frat party known as the Clinton Administration, and MTV when they used to actually play music.  We've seen some shit.  And we're all incredible people because of it.  Welcome, Nathan.  Welcome home.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This Little Diva Went To Market

While I am not a very "outdoorsy" kinda gal. . .*

*My militant fatwa on camping is the stuff of legend.

. . .I do love to eat, and God and the Baby Jeebus know I go batshit crazy over shopping, so when the two are combined, I will put my agoraphobia on the back burner and venture out for a little open-air retail therapy. Fortunately for me, I live in Portland; and between the months of May and October, you can't swing a dead hipster in this city without hitting a farmer's market; so if the weather is being particularly un-douchelike, and I have a willing accomplice, then to market, to market I go.

While my socially-conscious friend Kelly is into all of that liberal, hippy-dippy, locally grown shit, and my asshole friend Gina likes to go anywhere she can mock that liberal, hippy-dippy, locally-grown shit, neither one of them share my mad love for honey sticks and cider presses.  My best friend, Curtis, however, has the dual distinction of being an avid foodie, and one of the few people willing to be seen with me in public, so he and I made a pilgrimage to the Portland Farmer's Market last weekend.

Wending our way past the requisite hemp vendors and didgeridoo players. . .*

*Yes, I said "playerS".   As in plural.   As in "more than one".   Welcome to Portlandia.

. . .we made our way to the Delphina's bakery stand, where the pretzel sticks taste as though they are imbued with the blood of unicorns and pixie dust, and the vendor bore a striking resemblance to Adam Levine.  Check and mate.

Curtis selected his bread with great intensity.  When it comes to food, that man has a single-minded focus that would make an autistic air-traffic controller flinch.

"Dude, seriously."  I moaned.  "It's bread.  Less thought went into the Warsaw Pact."  Ignoring Curtis' withering glare, I decided to go for the distraction technique.  "Oh my God!"  I cried, grabbing Curtis' arm for emphasis.  "Did I tell you that I saw Osama Bin Laden at my gym this week!?!?"

Curtis pulled his gaze from the bread sticks (and the hot vendor) and squinted at me dubiously.  "I'm sorry, I couldn't quite understand you with all of that 'crazy' clogging my ears.  You saw. . .Osama Bin Laden. . .at your gym?"

"I swear it was him."  I nodded emphatically.  "Sure, they CLAIM he's dead, but that's just the perfect cover now, isn't it?"

Curtis rolled his eyes.  "OK, ease up Jessica Chastain.  Please tell me you didn't go all 'Zero Dark 24 Hour Fitness' on his ass."

"Pfft!  I played it cool."  I said with a dismissive wave of my hand.  "That being said, I still reserve the right to call Homeland Security if I catch him constructing a weapon of mass destruction in the Pilates studio."

"Honey, with the government as fucked up as they are, you're better off calling Jessica Chastain."  Curtis drawled.

I nodded in agreement.  "Valid point.  And let's not totally discount Claire Danes.  I mean, I've never actually SEEN an episode of 'Homeland', but two Emmys and a shit-ton of Golden Globes can't be wrong."

"Word."  he affirmed, giving the vendor three dollars and a flirty smile.*


Continuing on, I watched as Curtis fed his raging oniomania by purchasing ten pounds of apples, the James Deen of parsnips, two bottles of blackberry wine, two loaves of bread, and enough peaches to gag a yeti.

"Ummm. . .Curt?"  I queried, gesturing at the Mount Kilimanjaro of produce now before us.  "How exactly do you propose we get all of this to the car?"

Because. . .shit.  Really!?!?

Grinning smugly, Curtis appraised my arm muscles.  "I don't know.  You're small. . .but wiry."

I snorted in disbelief, waving a hand at the bounty before us.  "Wiry or not. . .and thanks!  I've totally been working out. . .we're looking at about eighty ponds of food here.  That's going to be like hauling an Olsen twin uphill for six blocks."

Curtis rolled his eyes dramatically.  "We'll do it in shifts, you pussy.  And I'm sure I won't hear you complaining when I hook a bitch up with some peach jam."

"For your peach jam, I will gladly be your sherpa, Mister Shackleford."  I said with a gallant curtsy.*

*Yeah.  I curtsy. . .in public.  Hence the Curtis-is-one-of-the-few-people-willing-to-be-seen-with-me rejoinder.

"Good."  Curtis smirked.  "Because I'm getting a couple gallons of that cider too."

Groaning inwardly, I reached past Curtis to snag an apple cider sample. "So, the other night I told Nathan that I'm a Republican.  Pretty sure I'm dead to him now."

"The truth would have come out eventually."  Curtis stated solemnly.  "The first time he caught you watching FOX News or saw your extensive collection of firearms the jig would be up."

I tossed my paper cup into the trash with a sigh.  "I't'll be tough to convince him that I don't spend my spare time bombing abortion clinics and night-sticking the queers."

"You don't? Well, shit. . .there goes next weekend's plans."  Curtis quipped as he walked over to the next produce stall and gave a little squeal.  "Ooh!  Italian artichokes for two dollars?  I have GOT to get some of those. . .and that kale is GORGEOUS!"  He stopped, turning to face me gravely.  "Oh God.  I just totally out-gayed myself, didn't I?"

"Like a drag queen on Pride Week."  I grinned, popping a hazelnut into my mouth.

Curtis shrugged, tossing a gallon of cider into his bag.  "Meh, whatevs. . .I own my shit."

As we made our way back to the apple vendor to begin walking the Green Mile back to my car with a hundred pounds of grub we were passed by a young woman who loudly informed her friend "I'm, like, totally immune to naked men.  Like, they don't even faze me anymore..."

Curtis and I stared at one another in silence for a moment before he slowly shook his head.  "You know, people watch 'Portlandia' and think they know. . .but they have no idea."

"I don't understand how one can become IMMUNE to nude men."  I pondered.  "Immunity implies that you are resistant to something.  If I ever become resistant to naked men then please kill me."

Curtis chuckled.  "Things you only hear in Portland."

"C'mon, Portlanders aren't any weirder than anyone else!"  I laughed.  At that moment we were passed by two men in matching 'Diff'rent Strokes' T-shirts.

The taller one turned to his friend and stated with a world-weary sigh, "Let's get out of here so we can meditate and make some candles."

I turned to Curtis and shook my head slowly.  "Touche."



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Soft Place To Land

I fell in love with him the first time we met.  He smiled at me, and locked his jade green eyes on mine and I felt my heart melt like warm butter in my chest.  As the weeks went by and I grew closer to him, he began to feel safe holding my hand, and eventually laying his head on my arm and I knew in the deepest part of my being that I had met a true angel here on earth.

He was one of my first students.  His name was "Justin".  And he was five years old.

Justin was a beautiful and healthy baby boy.  According to his files, he was reading when he was two and spoke complete sentences in both Spanish and English.  An only child, he was active, and silly, and the light of his mother's life.  Until his mother discovered methamphetamine, and Justin's life began to spiral downward from there.  Unable to hold a job, Justin's mother floated from boyfriend to boyfriend; staying with Justin in various men's homes until the money and their patience ran out.  her longest relationship was with a man named "Randy" who seemed to be a stabilizing influence in her life, and appeared to have true affection for Justin.  But Randy too had a taste for meth, and his behavior became more and more erratic.  One night, when Justin's mother went out to prostitute herself for drugs, Randy began to use.  The events of that evening are hazy, but what we do know is that at one point in time, Randy shook two-year-old Justin hard enough to give him whiplash and dislocate his shoulder before throwing him up against the wall hard enough to leave a dent.

Justin spent months in the hospital as doctors tried to alleviate the swelling in his brain and determine the extent of the damage.  Randy got a slap on the wrist, a few months in prison and then disappeared off of the radar.  Justin's mother; unable to stay clean, lost custody of Justin and he entered the foster care system.  Justin was one of the lucky one's.  He was promptly taken in by a loving and supportive foster family who cared for him like he was their birth child and showered him with unending affection and support.  When Justin was finally released it was with a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury and related seizure disorder.  The once, bright, chattering, and active boy would never again speak, or walk, or likely develop skills beyond those of a two year old.

I worked with Justin for a year, and was in perpetual awe of what a pure light of optimism and joy he was.  Despite his struggles, Justin never wept from frustration, or whined, but rather met every obstacle with his signature sunny smile and infectious giggle.  Whenever I would start to feel put upon or weighed down by daily trials, I would think of Justin, and my spirits would instantly be lifted.

Driving home from work one day, I heard my phone ring, looked down and saw a number I recognized. Pulling over to the side of the road I took the call from Justin's foster mother, only to learn that Justin had had a grand mal seizure the night before.  By the time they got him to the hospital the damage was too severe and Justin was declared brain dead.  They removed him from the ventilator three hours later.

Justin's foster parents organized a lovely reception and memorial at their home where we all gathered to share our fondest memories.  I asked the foster father is Justin's birth mother had been invited and he said, "She's been in the bathroom since she got here."  As if on cue, the bathroom door swung open and a young woman, looking tired beyond her years and visibly intoxicated, emerged.  "It's all my fault!"  she began to wail.  "It's all my fault!  I let him kill my baby!  I let him kill my baby!"  The guests looked horrified and all eyes were on the distraught woman.  Gently taking her arm, and whispering so as not to embarrass her, I said "Come with me to the kitchen.  Let's get you something to eat."

We spent the next hour or so in the kitchen, talking little, but holding hands and crying together.  I convinced her to eat a sandwich and handed her a bottle of water. She looked at me skeptically.  "You must hate me don't you?"  she asked. "Everybody else here does."

"I don't hate you."  I replied.  "You made bad choices, but that doesn't make you a bad person.  You loved Justin and he was your son.  You have every right to be here today."  Snuffling into her sleeve, she took a sip of her water and mumbled.  "Imma call my ride.  I need to get the fuck out of here."

We sat in the kitchen in silence until two slender men with long hair arrived at the back door to take her. . .wherever.  She grabbed her jacket and began to walk out, then stopped, turned to me, and said. "Thank you. . .for treating me like a human being."

Her words hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest.  It occurred to me in that moment that I may well have been the only person in years to treat her like she was someone.  Like she mattered.  My mother always told me "we are all a product of our choices".  Unfortunately, our children are innocent victims of our choices. . .children like Justin, and Madeleine McCann. . .and a million other little ones hurt and lost and alone out there.  But the choices made by Justin's mother did not make her less of a human in my eyes.  She was still a person. . .she still deserved basic respect.  My heart went out to her and all other moms out there struggling (as I do as well) to keep it together and protect our children from harm, even at our own hands.

I haven't seen Justin's birth mother since and his foster parents informed me that after a brief arrest, she skipped town and has been missing ever since.  But I think of her often.  In fact, not long ago I was at Target with my best friend Kelly, when I looked over by the toy section and saw a little boy about five years old and his young, tired looking mommy.  The boy began to whine and fuss and the obviously frazzled mother snapped.  She leaped down to the child's level and grabbed his arms hard enough to lift him off the ground and make him cry out in pain.  I didn't think.  Perhaps if I'd taken the time to think I would have acted differently, but I didn't. . .I acted.  Racing over to the woman's side I put a firm hand on her shoulder and said "It's OK.  Take a break.  We'll watch your son,  just. . .take a break." Staring up at us in horror and shame, she shook her head slowly, let go of her son's arms, and walked away, visibly shaken.  We entertained her son by showing him toys, and my son J. showed the little boy how to put on the Avengers masks and play superhero.  

A few minutes later, the young woman returned, obviously humiliated.  Without meeting my eyes she stammered out a "thank you" and walked away, calmer and more subdued, her son happily skipping along on her side.  A beautiful blue-eyed boy who would be Justin's age, had he lived.

Would anything have happened to that boy had I not intervened? I honestly don't know.  But I do know how that young mother was feeling at that moment.  I've stood where she stood; alone, tired, overwhelmed, with two children crying and screaming and making demands that I felt powerless to meet.  I've known how you can get so exhausted and stressed that striking your child seems like a perfectly feasible option.  I've known that panic. . .that fear.  But I am one of the lucky ones.  I may feel exhausted and lonely at times, but I know that I have a loving and supportive circle of family and friends around me that will always be a soft place for me to land.  Justin's mother had no one, and that woman at Target may not have had anyone as well.  And for those women without a soft place; when they fall, their landing will be hard and unforgiving, and their children will be the collateral damage.

We've all seen women like that. Women who jerk their son's arm angrily, women who scream at their kids at the park, women who swat their daughter's bottom in line at the grocery store.  And we judge them; at least, I know I did, until I became a single mom.  Now, I see them for who they are: women without a soft place to land.  So, when you see a woman like that, step up and offer to lend a hand.  She might spit in your face, or tell you to "mind your own $%@& business", but then again, she might just be grateful to know that someone cares; not just about her child, but about her as well.

Reach out to a single mom you know and offer to help with housework, or bring her a cup of coffee, or offer to watch her children for twenty minutes so she can talk a walk.  Be her soft place, for all of those moms out there struggling on their own. . .and for their children. . .and for Justin.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Boy Scouts of America: Pitching Tents Since 1910


I'm a firm believer in active parenting.  That is to say, I make sure that my short people remain active so that they are not bugging the ever-loving shit out of me with their incessant demands for such trivialities as food and maternal affection.  Since both of my boys have their mother's mad musical skillz. . .*

*Yes.  I DO count an encyclopedic knowledge of Eminem lyrics as a "skill"

. . .and I'm hoping to raise them in true Joy Luck Club Tiger Mom fashion, we do the requisite piano and violin lessons.  The shorties are also actively involved in their church youth group in a desperate attempt to ameliorate the spiritual damage inflicted by a lifetime of listening to Jurassic 5 and the Wu-Tang Clan and this year the boys have entered their final year as Cub Scouts.

Cub Scouts is one of those organizations that teaches valuable life lessons like: how to construct a balsa wood race car without losing your shit, or, that in the woods, no one can hear you scream.  I jest, I jest. . .kind of.  In truth, if you can look beyond the fundamentalist Christian slash "death to homos" stance, the Boy Scouts of America has been raising fine young men who will never get laid til college for centuries.  And as I fully intend to be grandchild-free for at least another 12-15 years (and because I'm a whore for a s'more, yo) scouting seemed the perfect past time for the shorties, and myself.

What I failed to realize when I first signed the boys up for scouting nigh long four years ago, was how frigging NEEDY the scout masters are.  Every day my email inbox was flooded like the hull of the Andrea Doria, and I would find myself barraged by demands for projects, and overnights, and fundraisers, and camping trips.*

*Nononononononono.  I do not camp.  Hell to the no.  Giant, steaming bowls of NO.

And, of course, once you have completed said tasks/projects/douchebaggery, you are "rewarded" with more fucking patches to be sewn onto TWO uniforms.  Remember my aforementioned stance on camping?  Well, multiply that by the amount of Duggar spawn and that pretty much sums up my hatred of sewing.  Why do I need to sew?  I'm not Betsy Ross.  This isn't the Great Depression.  Do you know what I do if I get a hole in my sock?  I say "Oh, that's a crying goddamn shame" then I drive my punk ass to Target, throw down a couple of bones, and buy a new pair of socks.  Check and mate, bitches.

The start of the school year is a magical time in scouting as it is when the Cubs kick off their biggest fundraiser of the year: popcorn sales.  Scouts rush to sign up for the prime selling times outside of local Home Depots and grocery stores and parents start Facebook pages and Twitter accounts solely to coerce their family and friends into paying $20 for a microscopic bag of stale popcorn; peddling their wares like a hooker when the rent is due.  Why such exuberance?  Because the top sellers win such valuable prizes as potato guns and camping trips.  Now, (a) the reason why I no longer work in retail is because I have the marketing acumen of an autistic wolverine, (b) arming my children with potato guns will only end in some dystopian "Hunger Games" scenario, and, (c) I believe we've already established my militant stance on the whole camping thing.  So, no, I do not scramble desperately to stand outside of Safeway in a daring attempt to be the Corn Queen of Portland, but as I am all about the parental support thing, I did sign up the short people and myself for a selling shift outside of Lowe's last Sunday.*

*But only after the Seahawks game, because...priorities.

Now, for those of you not living in my fine city, last weekend we were slammed by the tailend of a typhoon out of Japan. Our typical drizzly September weather went from mild precipitation to a class-5 bukkake right in Portland's smug face.  But while most people were smart enough to stay inside during Tropical Storm Unagi, my shorties and I were standing under a flimsy shelter getting water boarded hard enough to make Dick Cheney cringe.

The short people were far more enthusiastic about our afternoon activities than I. M raced through the torrential rain to deliver his sales pitch and met every soul-crushing rejection with a cheery "OK, thanks anyway! Maybe next time!" and J, in true drama queen fashion, choreographed an intricate song and dance routine about popcorn that would rival any Broadway play.*

*Well, maybe off-Broadway. . .way, way off-Broadway.

"Whoa, ease up there, Neil Patrick Harris." I said with a bewildered shake of my head. "Wait...did you just do jazz hands?"

J shrugged casually.  "Meh, the dance needed a little somethin-somethin. What's wrong with jazz hands?"

"Nothing! Nothing at all." I said, patting his head tenderly.  "Don't ask, don't tell, that's my motto.  Besides, I understand the Scouts are a lot more understanding about that lifestyle these days."

J tilted his head in confusion. "What lifestyle, Mommy?"

"Dancing, Babe." I smiled gently.*

*OK, before anyone blasts me for "outing" my son, let me clarify that, at present, it is merely a pipe dream...a dream that, one day, when I'm old and infirm, J and his life partner, Stephan, will call me 'Nana' and let me live in their guest house and take care of their adopted Chinese baby.  And on weekends we'll go out for scones and they'll take me to musicals and make sure my lipstick is on straight...I may have given this some thought.

As the rain increased, the foot traffic rapidly decreased, and I watched as the spirit of entrepreneurialism slowly faded from my children's eyes.  Finally, a smiling woman approached the table.

"How much is the cheese corn?" she asked.

"Twenty dollars!" M beamed, holding out the bag of popcorn.

The woman looked horrified.  "TWENTY dollars!?!?  For this TINY bag!?!?  Why?"

M looked puzzled.  "Because that's how much the leaders said it was." he explained patiently.

The woman narrowed her eyes at M, obviously wondering if he was being a smart ass.*

*Which, seeing as he is MY child, would be a natural assumption.  M, however is not a smart ass but rather a child with autism who calls shit as he sees it.  Straight up, Little Man.

"I don't know where you get off justifying that kind of markup."  the woman sneered.  "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

OK. . .Back.  The fuck.  Up.  Did she seriously just inform my eleven year old children that they should bear some deep, existential angst for standing outside a poor man's Home Depot schlepping popcorn in a frigging monsoon?  They didn't establish the prices!  They didn't set out with some nefarious plot to scalp the fine citizens of Lake Oswego!  This was the part where I wanted to tell this chick to go cornhole herself with her umbrella, but I channeled my inner Carrie Underwood and let Jesus take the wheel.

"It's less about the popcorn."  I explained.  "The money is actually a donation to the Scouts which helps fund educational and spiritually sound activities for the boys.  It also pays for uniforms and dues for those families who can't afford them."

Looking somewhat abashed, the woman set the popcorn down, muttered a feeble "OKsorryhaveaniceday" and slunk off into Lowe's with her metaphoric tail between her legs.

Sighing with annoyance, I plunked down in the folding chair and began tapping on my phone. "Mommy!"  J admonished. "No sitting down!"

I leveled him with a thousand-yard stare.  "Am I the one wearing the funny hat and Mister Furley neck scarf?  No.  This is your gig, Dude.  I'm just here to make sure no one throws you into a windowless van."

J scowled, and returned to selling, glancing briefly at my phone.  "Hey!"  he cried. "Are you playing 'Candy Crush'?"

I quickly pocketed my phone.  "Of course not!  Just checking the weather for today."

M stared at me solemnly.  "You know, you go to hell for lying, Mommy."

Thus admonished, I got out of my chair and stood between my soaked and shivering children, rubbing their arms and backs for warmth.

"Oh, Captain, my Captain,"  J said with gravity. "Permission to use inappropriate language?"

Looking out at the flooded parking lot, waiting for Kate Winslet to drift by on a piece of driftwood, I considered his request.  "Permission granted, Soldier."

J sighed dramatically.  "This sucks ass."

I nodded in agreement.  "This sucks steaming piles of ass, Little Man."

"We only have twenty more minutes, can't we just leave?"  he begged plaintively.

I thought about his question, looking out at the rain swept parking lot, watching my sons bounce up and down for warmth, and considering the paltry number of people willing to brave the weather for home goods and popcorn and gave him my reply.  Suddenly, a bowl of chili and my electric blanket sounded like a lovely idea.  Then I remembered why we joined Scouts in the first place:  honor, respect, and commitment.  My short people have been very blessed to have a grandfather who embodies all three of those qualities; a man who stepped forward when I left my husband and said "I'll be their father now".  A man who never backed down from a fight and has worked his whole life to provide for his family.  A man who honors every commitment and doesn't look to pass blame or find a loophole when things get awkward or difficult.  They are blessed to have this man as their grandfather as he embodies everything their real father is not.  If my boys grow up to be one-tenth the man my father is, the world will be a better place for it.

"We can't leave, J."  I said with a smile.  "We made a commitment, and a Xxxxxxx always honors their commitments."

"But, we aren't Xxxxxxx's,"  M replied.  "Our last name is Xxxxxxx."

J thought for a moment.  "We're both, M."  he concluded.  "Daddy takes care of us sometimes, but so do Momo and Poppo.  Momo taught you to read, remember?  And Poppo taught us how to ride bikes.  And Auntie Holly taught me how to tie my shoes.  So, really. . .we're both families."

Seemingly satisfied with J's assessment (albeit less than thrilled to be standing in the deluge for another twenty minutes), M steeled his resolve and began stacking more popcorn on the table.

I have had many proud moments in parenting with my short people.  They are constantly astounding me with their depth and maturity and empathy, but never have I been prouder of them than I was at that moment.  For at that moment, I looked at them, and I saw an image of the men they would become.  I looked at them, and I saw the greatest man alive.  I looked at them, and I saw my father.


P.S. We sold enough popcorn to earn a prize. . .a camping trip.  Pray for me.