Friday, May 29, 2009

I’ll Take the Sexy Silhouette Special, K?

Oh my, certain commercials just make me laugh my head off.

Yesterday, I saw a commercial for Special K that promises to help me lose one inch off my waist. ONE INCH. Hahahahahaha! I mean, as if ONE inch is going to solve my problem. Or anyone’s problem.

If one inch is your problem, YOU DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM. You may, however, be anorexic.

Leave the inch increment claims to Viagra commercials, where it means more.

The second commercial that just MADE my day was for a skin lotion called My Silhouette. It shows this stick-thin (seriously, she’s in boy shorts and has NO curves. Her “silhouette” is a straight line) pre-pubescent girl masquerading as a possibly 20-30-something sliding silkily into skinny jeans.

The commercial promises that if you follow My Silhouette’s advice on fashion, nutrition, and style you will be just gorgeous (implying weight loss). Weigh loss from a LOTION? I mean, seriously?

I’m not saying I wouldn’t slather myself in this if I thought there was an ice cube’s chance in Havana it would work. But lotion is NOT going to help you lose weight. Unless there’s acid in it.

Come on. Please tell me no one in America is going to fall for this.

I have serious respect for marketing people. I’ve dabbled in marketing myself over the years, and I know it’s hard work. Marketing people get ribbed a lot, because they’re such easy targets. Their job is to make us love (or hate) something. In short, to make us believe what their bosses want us to believe.

And it works. A lot.

But this My Silhouette business has got to stop. My silhouette is as sexy as the Michelin Man, and no lotion or cereal is going to change that.

At least the marketing people can take comfort that I got a good laugh out of their commercials!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It’s All about the Dress

For those of you, who just HAD to see Mom’s wedding dress; Mom has helpfully posted some of her best wedding photos on her blog.

Check out my gorgeous mom!

What’s In a (Nick)name?

I’ve never really been a fan of nicknames.

It’s all Mom’s fault.

When I was little, people tried to shorten my name to “Ann,” thinking my middle name was “Marie.”

But I knew my middle name was “Joy,” chosen to reflect my parents’ emotions after waiting 11 years for a child. As a child, I could have cared less what people called me.

Mom, however, cared. She cared deeply. She let people know that calling me “Ann” was NOT an option.

“I named you Ann-Marie for a REASON,” she would insist. And while my mother is not a violent woman, her claws came out when people called me “Ann” or “Annie.”

The only exception to the rule was Mom’s brother, my Uncle Scott. For some reason, Mom allowed him to call me Raggedy Ann. I think it more a reflection on the scrapes I managed to get myself into than out of affection. Either way, it’s the only nickname Mom tolerated.

I was named after Dad’s mother, Annamarie, and Mom thought adding a hyphen would make my name unique and different. Well, let me tell you, that hyphen has been a thorn in my side ever since.

I feel, I really do, for people named D’shawn and the like. We spend half our lives incorporating the punctuation into our names, and people just think it’s weird.

When my purse was stolen out of my office, I had to apply for a new Social Security card. When I spelled my name to the woman at the Social Security office, she told me there was no way to put a hyphen on the card.

“But it’s part of my NAME!” I protested. “Are you leaving the ‘e’ out of other peoples’ names?”

She was not amused.

Someone once asked me how I felt about having “two names.” I said, “I don’t HAVE two names. What are you talking about?”

They were like, “You know. ‘Ann’ and ‘Marie,’ it’s like two names.”

I sighed. “The hyphen makes it all one word.” I neglected to add, “Did you MISS second grade?”

When Brett and I first met, he asked me if he could call me “Ann.”

I said, “Sure! If I can call you Brrrr.” (thinking “you clod.”)

Ah, you’re right. I don’t know WHY he called me up for a second date.

Thanks to Mom’s dogged determination, I squeaked safely though most of my childhood sans nickname. (There was the Moby Dick incident, but let’s not dwell on that.)

I, myself, violated Mom’s rule in eighth grade. When Mr. T passed out the forms for our eighth grade diplomas, I wrote my name as “Annie.” I’m not really sure why, maybe as a tiny rebellion for an otherwise pretty obedient kid.

I still remember being seated with my parents at Lino’s for the presentation. I was called up, accepted my diploma, and brought it proudly back to my seat.

Mom took one look at it and said, “Who is ‘Annie Trotter,’ and why do you have her diploma?”

Mom got the diploma “fixed” over the summer and insisted I’d appreciate it one day.

Thanks to Mom’s indoctrination, I became pretty regimented about my own name. I became an advocate for hyphens everywhere. I didn’t think twice about correcting people who called me “Ann,” after meeting me one measly time.

I considered myself lucky, since I’d observed others trying to break the nickname cycle.

My dad was called Tiny (because he was NOT) and Larry (short for his middle name of Lawrence) while growing up. He told me what a great relief it was to enter college and introduce himself as “Bob.”

“No 300 pound kid wants to be known as ‘Tiny,’” he’d insist, revisiting the trauma.

One of my Tennessee cousins was called “Frankie” growing up. At some point, he became the grown-up, handsome, father of four he is today. For a long time, he has tried, unsuccessfully, to get his “northern” (that’s us!) family to call him “Frank.” No such luck. He will FOREVER be “Frankie” to those of us who remember the fun-loving minx he was as a kid.

Frankie’s sister, Nicole, went through a similar phase. She was a beautiful child with a perfectly tanned complexion. Her mom introduced her to us as “Coco.” We dutifully called her “Coco” for years, until she finally stood up and said, “My name is NICOLE,” in a tone indicating she meant business.

It was the same way for a kid I knew in high school. We called him “Rusty” for what seemed like forever, until he started insisting his name was “Timothy.” His “official” name was foreign to us, and though we started calling him that to his face, whenever he wasn’t around, he was still “Rusty” in conversation.

He still is, actually.

Two of my cousins from Connecticut were “Beth Ann” and “Deborah Sue.” Forever, it seemed, I used those names, until my cousin Beth told me, “I’m just Beth. She’s just Deb. You don’t have to use our WHOLE names.”

Ah, got it.

My own husband was called “Bert” and “Bertram” growing up.

Did he like these nicknames?

Let me just say, if you ever want to get beaten to a pulp by the (normally passive) 6’4”, 250 pound giant I married – just call him “Bertram.” You’ll be coughing up blood for a week.

He still seethes when he hears it.

I mean, I wouldn’t even TRY to call him that, and he LOVES me.

Brett’s dad used to call one of the grandkids “Stinky.” Even though we were just married at the time, I made Brett promise to NEVER let his dad call our kid “Stinky.” That’s one nickname just asking for trouble (and a stint in juvie).

That’s not to say all nicknames are bad. In college, my first roommate called me “Murray,” out of affection. My third roommate called me “Ava Maria,” and sometimes just “Ava.” But neither was a replacement for my name.

Feeling the way we do about nicknames, it’s pretty hypocritical that we’re calling Sam all sorts of nicknames while he’s in the womb.

At first, we tried to stop ourselves from calling him “Sammy.” No luck so far.

Also, we have tried, valiantly, to stop talking to him in that squeaky-singsong voice, so high-pitched only the neighborhood dogs can hear it. Also, not happening yet.

We’ve also called him:
Little Bud

Little Punk
Samuel Adams (I think president; Brett thinks beer)
Samster (sounds cute and cuddly, like a hamster)
Samsod (makes me think of him as a hockey player, slamming guys into the side of the rink)
Samuel L. Jackson (I like to think my son will be able to kick butt - only in defense of himself and helpless others, of course)

Argh! We have become that which we hate!

I can’t see the future, so I don’t know what our success rate will be in calling a “Sam” a “Sam.”

Or if in 25 years, when he’s introduced as "Samsod," he’ll roll his eyes, and blame me.

At least, I’ll be able to tell him he’s lucky I didn’t stick a hyphen in there anywhere.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Dad I Never Thought I’d Have

After Dad died, people made a lot of assumptions about Mom.

“She’ll move to an apartment.”
“She’ll have to get a cat to keep her company.”
“She’ll never drive again.”

The most common sentiment I heard was, “She’ll never get married again.”

I could understand why people would assume such a thing. It was evident Mom and Dad had enjoyed an all-too-rare experience of a truly good marriage. If anyone should know, I should.

After all, I grew up carefully observing my parents’ union, and I can honestly say it was filled with willful selflessness and delighted servanthood.

That’s not to say they didn’t go through tough times.

Their marriage weathered 11 years of infertility, Dad’s crushing four year depression, and a slew of trials that would shake the foundations of any marriage. But their love, dedication, and commitment were the Rock of Gibraltar, and through it all, they remained devoted to one another.

They were a wonderful, unique couple who truly embodied “happily ever after.”

There are those of us who struggle in our marriages. Those of us for whom every small triumph, every light at the end of the tunnel, every shred of selfishness is weighed and measured. Those of us who labor like dogged slaves to make our marriages work and, sometimes, save them altogether.

There are those of us who count every day we didn’t walk away as a good day.

There are those of us who, if something were to happen, would not be so quick to jump back into the deep end of the pool.

This was not the case for Mom. She’d had a good marriage, and her outlook was untypically sunny.

I had another reason to believe Mom would find love again. I know I’m going to sound biased here, but it is the gospel truth.

Mom is beautiful. She has always been beautiful. She was a lovely child, and her school and college photos show the spitting image of Mary Tyler Moore-like perfection. At 54, she was still a stunner who could easily turn men’s heads.

(In this case, I am most DEFINITELY my father’s daughter.)

Plus, I knew my mom better than anyone. She was strong in ways other people couldn’t imagine. Mom had a plethora of qualities that made her a catch. She was blessed with common sense (not that she passed any on to her daughter), practicality, frugality, and a generous spirit. She was loving, godly, and placed other’s needs before her own.

Heck, I would have married her.

So, while it came as a surprise to some, I was not shocked when men began to ask Mom out. I still remember the first man, a divorced man who had once gone to our church. Mom was flattered but confided to me that, “Oh my, it was funny! He was much too young for me!”

That’s my mom, the reluctant Demi Moore of the Baptist set fending off the Ashton Kutchers of the world.

Soon, Mom was being ardently pursued by Gary, a long time bachelor divorced some 20 years prior, who people swore would never get married. It was shortly obvious to me he had simply been waiting 20 years for the right woman.

Oh my, was it ever fun to watch their courtship! Brett and I were ridiculously amused to see sensible 50-somethings suddenly turn as mushy-gushy as high school sweethearts.

The change in Mom’s life changed mine as well. For the majority of my life, Mom had listened as I babbled on about boys, college life, roommates, work, and so on. Now, she had news of her own at the end of every day and bubbled over in excitement to tell me. I could hardly get a word in edgewise.

I found myself drawn in as a relationship counselor. I listened to every single detail of every single date, examined the love letters that came regularly to the mailbox, and couldn’t help but smile as Mom overflowed with the “whys” and “what ifs” that accompany any serious relationship.

Of course, there were adjustments I had to make. I had been the center of my mom’s world for the whole of my life, and now it was apparent I was going to have to share the stage with Gary. It took some time for me to get used to playing second fiddle, but the sacrifice was worth it to see Mom’s effervescent smile resurface.

That was one of the things which drew Mom and Gary together. They both understood sorrow. Mom had lost the love of her life in the prime of life. Gary, barely married, had gone through a painful divorce and later the harrowing death of his 21 year old son in a car accident. They had both sobbed over carefully tended graves in abandoned cemeteries.

They had both lamented the loss of life while giving glory to the God who ordained it.

Mom and Gary commemorated this joint bond in their wedding invitations, part of which read, “Each recognizing the other to be a giver of joy and a sharer of sorrow…”

There were those who questioned if I was okay with Mom getting remarried. The truth is I was secure in the love my mom and dad had shared for over 33 years. I knew without a doubt Mom would always love Dad. He was the husband of her youth and produced the child I knew they both cherished.

Knowing that, it would have been terribly unfair of me to expect Mom to slink off into spinsterhood simply because Dad had died. Not if there was a chance she could find love again. I wanted desperately to see Mom happy again, and Gary brought that much needed spark that kindled Mom’s reawakening love of life.

As Mom and Gary prepared to get married, I was called into service as the Matron of Honor. Just married myself a mere two years earlier, I was still flush with wedding advice and thrilled to put it to good use.

Mom and I visited Vera’s House of Brides to purchase her wedding outfit. Mom had decided to buy a mother-of-the-bride, white linen suit for her walk down the aisle. As we examined mother-of-the-bride outfits, I teasingly pulled out a wedding dress from another rack.

“C’mon Mom, you’ve got to try at least one actual wedding dress!”

Mom happily relented “just for fun,” and soon we were settled into a spacious fitting room. Mom pulled the dress on and stepped on the pedestal. We laughed with each other before looking at the mirror.

As our eyes met in the mirror, our mouths gaped wide open. Mom was resplendent in the designer wedding dress.

As I looked at her in surprise, I knew there was no going back to any boring, old, mother-of-the bride dress.

We spent the rest of the day trying on dresses but kept returning to the gorgeous, off the shoulder, gold ivy bedecked gown Mom had first tried on. By the end of the day, the dress was Mom’s, and the wedding had gone from perfunctory to production.

The day of the wedding, Brett and I stood up for Mom while Gary’s daughter, Camille, and her husband stood up for Gary. We walked down the aisle as couples, each unbelievably happy with the turn of events.

Camille had spent almost the whole of her life with a single dad. She told me she thought he would never find anyone.

She told Mom, “I knew you were the one when I saw Dad hold your hand. I’d never seen him hold anyone’s hand before!”

After the vows were said and Mom and Gary began their descent down the aisle, Camille and I shared a joyful, tear-filled hug. We were both thrilled beyond belief to be getting a new sister out of the deal.

“We should be high-fiving,” Camille joked with me. “I thought we would never get those two married off!”

One of the funniest moments was when the photographer (who had done my wedding) said, “I’ve done mothers’ weddings and their daughters’ weddings years later. I’ve never done the daughter’s wedding first and THEN the mother’s!”

As Gary entered our life full force, I found myself instantly appreciative and grateful for God’s goodness and His grace.

Gary is not my dad. In fact, he’s nothing like my dad. While Dad was impatient (which he DID pass on to his daughter), Gary is infinitely long-suffering. While Dad could make a stone statue cry with laughter, Gary is literal and serious.

But, I was glad Gary was his own man. It negated the need for comparison.

Over the years, we have come to love Gary and accept him as family. Gary has always been there for us. I can’t count the number of times he’s come to our rescue when we were stranded somewhere, often dropping everything to help us.

He’s worked tirelessly, endlessly on projects where we couldn’t have succeeded without him. He’s generous, kind, and loves the Lord with a passion that provokes us to inspiration.

Oh, he’s not perfect. But he’s much more wonderful than any of us deserve.

There are many reasons to love Gary and to be thankful he’s a part of my family. The biggest reason, though, is that he makes my amazing mom happy, and I can’t ask for more than that.

So it is with much love, respect, and joy I wish them both a very happy 7th anniversary!

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Gary!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bunch of Mama’s Boys

On Sunday, Brett and I drove to his hometown of Geneva, Illinois. We’d been invited to a tribute/dedication for Brett’s Great Uncle Marsh (1906-2003).

Marsh, whose real name was John Marshall Butler, was Brett’s dad’s mother’s brother. His family knew him as “Marsh.”

Marsh had grown up with his sister Leah, Brett’s grandmother. When they were both young, their father left the family. Their mother became a single mother, much more unusual in those days. To support her family, she took a job at the Fabyan Estate in Geneva.

I don’t know much about the Fabyan Estate, except for that it was eventually donated to the city of Geneva as a park. It is a huge place and includes rose gardens, scenic bike paths, Japanese gardens, the historical Fabyan home, and lots of beautifully landscaped areas.

Fabyan Park is a big deal in Geneva and the neighboring cities of St. Charles and Batavia where Brett grew up. Over the years, Friends of Fabyan, a civic community group was formed. Since he had grown up as a young man on the estate, Marsh was tapped as the “local historian” for the group.

Uncle Marsh lived to be 97 years old, still in full control of his faculties, so he was able to add a great deal of knowledge to this local group as they wrote books and articles on the fabled Fabyan family and estate. After his death in 2003, the group decided to honor him by dedicating an antique sundial, located in the Fabyan Rose Gardens, in his name.

However, before they could do so, the sundial was stolen by local vandals and sold off for its metal parts. So the Friends of Fabyan went on a long search to locate a replica of the sundial. Finally, in 2009, they were able to find a similar sundial and plan the dedication.

Brett and I were honored to attend the ceremony. Since Marsh’s sister Leah had married Ernest Soderstrom, and the Soderstroms had Robert (now deceased), Ernie, Al (Brett’s dad), Paul, Kenneth, Ruth (now deaceased), and Rick, there were a lot of second generation Soderstroms present at the dedication.

Not to mention, the third generation (Brett, his cousins, and second cousins), and even a fourth generation (their children).

The ceremony itself was wonderful. There were a couple of funny moments, too. The Friends of Fabyan knew how much Uncle Marsh enjoyed banjo music, so they hired a banjo player to provide the music for the dedication.

Unfortunately, the banjo player seemed to think he was giving a concert. He went into (great) detail before each song and then played and played and played. Eventually, one of Marsh’s sons went up to the event organizer and whispered, “Do you have a hook? Otherwise, he’s just going to keep playing!”

She tactfully managed to edge him (reluctantly) off stage. She then gave a little history of Uncle Marsh, most of which I had never heard.

She talked about how he used to strap on ice skates in the winter and skate the length of the river down to the nearest town. He would do the family shopping and skate back, his arms laden down with bags. She mentioned how he would go with the Estate Supervisor, Jack “the sailor,” to fix areas around the estate, often employing secret progressive methods, so as not to offend the old-fashioned Fabyans.

She even spoke about how forward-thinking Uncle Marsh became a mechanic when the horse and buggy was still the main mode of transportation.

After her tribute, Marsh’s two sons and several of his grandchildren gave touching speeches about their father and grandfather. Al, Brett’s dad, was tapped to give the Soderstrom tribute.

Now, I have to stop here and say Brett’s dad may be the least emotional man I’ve ever met. I’ve known him for almost thirteen years and have not seen him cry once. He’s a wonderful man, kind, caring, jovial, generous to a fault, but definitely not over-choked with emotion.

However, as he stood on the steps of the sun dappled sundial podium, he broke down as talked about his Uncle Marsh and his mother, Leah.

He gestured around the lovely rose garden where we were seated. “We are surrounded by oak trees. Uncle Marsh and Mother Leah were like these oak trees, strong and steady. We are their acorns, their heritage, and we must follow their example by keeping our history strong and nurturing our own acorns.”

I couldn’t help looking over at Brett and smiled to think of my almost 40 year old husband as his father’s little acorn.

Brett’s dad had to stop speaking several times to regain control of his emotions. His intense admiration for his uncle, and overpowering love for his mother was expressly evident. I was moved to tears.

After all the tributes, and yet another mini-concert by the (somewhat egotistical) banjo maestro, the Friends of Fabyan presented honorary memberships to Marsh’s two sons and all of the Soderstrom brothers present – Ernie, Al, Paul, Kenneth, and Rick. Brett’s Uncle Rick even drove all the way down from Canada for the event.

As I watched the five remaining Soderstrom sons gather on the sundial steps, blue membership folders in hand, I couldn’t help but marvel at their shared respect and affection in honor of their uncle, but even more the deep love and loyalty to their mother that shone through.

I had the privilege of meeting Uncle Marsh several times before he passed away. I remember him as being soft-spoken and very sweet. I was relatively new to the family, and when I took his photo, he looked around and said, very nicely, “Who IS that girl?” I had to laugh.

After the dedication, we spent time with the Butler and Soderstrom families. It was a wonderful time of catching up, and both Brett and his dad were as proud as peacocks, showing off my pregnancy to anyone who would listen.

On our way back to the car, the chairperson of the Friends of Fabyan stopped us to wish us luck on our impending arrival. She was also the second person (ever) to rub my pregnant belly (to be honest, I love it when people do that. I know it drives some people nuts, but if I could, I would hire people just to rub my belly. I think it’s so cute!).

She asked us what we were having. When we told her about the Soderstrom’s extensively male birthright, she laughed.

Being a historian herself, she told us about a locally prominent woman who had two boys and when she gave birth to a third boy, she refused to go near him for ten days. She was so mad he wasn’t a girl! Then she told us about a former mayor of Geneva who had six girls and lamented his lack of a son.

“I say whatever you get, be happy,” she advised us with a smile.

On our way back home, I told Brett how moved I was by his father’s speech.

“The Soderstrom boys love their mothers,” he said.

I leaned back in my seat and reflected on Brett’s love for his own mother.

Brett was an “oops” baby, born after his mom and dad thought they were “done.” Still, Brett’s mother cherished her baby very much.

Brett was DEFINITELY the baby of the family, and while this threw the typical wrench in the works when it came to his four older brothers and sisters, it cultivated in him a deep appreciation for his mother.

Over the years, Brett spent a lot of time with his mom. They became good friends. She was saved only a short few years before he came to know the Lord, and how she REJOICED at news of his salvation!

Brett was fiercely protective of his mother and revered her greatly. He was also very affectionate, giving lots of hugs and always speaking highly of her. If Jean had been anyone else, it might have annoyed me as Brett’s young wife.

But Jean was one of the most genuinely sweet and caring people I have had the honor to know. She was tender and kind in all her ways. It would have been nearly impossible NOT to love her. Instead of judging me for marrying her “baby,” Jean welcomed me warmly into the family and lovingly referred to me as “her daughter by marriage.”

Brett was devastated when his mom passed away unexpectedly in December of 2005. Her death hit him like a ton of bricks, and even now his grief will trickle out in poignant moments. Just a few short months ago, we were aglow in our pregnancy news and discussing how we would tell Brett’s dad.

Brett looked wistfully into my eyes and said, “Mom would have loved this.”

I teared up and patted his hand. “She would have loved to know her baby is having a baby.” He nodded his head and swallowed his sorrow.

It may surprise you, knowing how close Mom and I are, but Mom wanted a son. She always defends herself by saying she wanted the Trotter name to be carried on. She says this in spite of the fact that my Uncle Jimmy Trotter, Dad’s brother, had THREE sons!

“But none of them have had sons,” she’ll protest.

I don’t mind that my name’s not Nathan and that I’m not a boy. Mom and Dad waited eleven years for me, and I think they were pretty happy to have me at all.

And Dad definitely wanted a girl. He used to joke with me, “You’re the one time I got what I wanted!”

When I got married, Mom wrote a wonderful vignette for our wedding program. She quoted the book of Ruth, where Naomi tells Ruth, “You are better to me than seven sons!” It was our own little inside joke.

Being an only child, the devotion I had/have for my parents was experienced through female eyes. I had heard the old saying, “A son’s a son until he takes a wife. A daughter’s a daughter all her life.”

I found myself prematurely anxious to learn I was having a boy. With all the hubbub, I was beginning to worry the love, affection, and desire to be close to my parents would be absent with Sam. I had visions of him running from me straight out of the womb.

This weekend did much to put those feelings at rest. Watching Brett’s dad and uncles relive their mother’s love, even a half century later, and knowing the special relationship shared by Brett and his mom, brought me great comfort.

I hope Brett passes this lesson on to Sam – “The Soderstrom boys love their mothers!”

And what a wonderful bunch of Mama’s boys they are.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Me 'n Carly

Carleen is having her baby next week, and I'm (Lord willing) having Sam in ten weeks! We wanted to get a photo of the two of us while we are both still pregnant. Aren't we cute?

A Note from Agnes

Every so often, I glimpse a little bit of myself in my family.

Today, I received a thank you note from Grandma for our Mother’s Day gift to her. I had to smile while reading it, since it sounds very much like my own personality coming through. I’d like to share it with you.

Keep in mind Grandma’s in her 90’s and still as sharp as a tack.

(Parenthetical comments are mine)

Dear Brett and Ann-Marie,
Thank you for the gift card you gave me for Mother’s Day. It sure was a very enjoyable time. I hadn’t expected to have any company (Grandma had 12 children and has over 100 grandkids, great grandkids, and great-great grandkids, and she didn’t expect anyone to remember her on Mother’s Day?!).

I sure enjoyed the KFC (Mom was going to order a nice meal from an upscale place, but Grandma had her heart set on KFC, so we had KFC) and another party on Monday (Mom’s birthday party). More kids, food, and fun.

Then your mom took me on Monday to the foot doctor, and we enjoyed Culver’s – quiet, peaceful, and onion rings (I don’t usually equate quiet and peaceful with onion rings, but to each her own. And Grandma LOVES onion rings).

I sure enjoy eating, especially good food (me too, Grandma, me too).

I’m so excited about Sammy. Can hardly wait. Who will he look like? Red hair? Freckles on his nose? No?


That’s Agnes Theresa Rehfeldt for you! She’s a funny, classy lady, and I’m proud to claim her as my grandma. And Sam’s soon-to-be great-grandma!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sam and the Savior

I suffered a major meltdown last night.

I was up with my normal pregnancy insomnia, but instead of my usual 3:00 – 5:00 a.m. time, I was awake from 12:30 – 4:30 a.m. My mind was working overtime. I began to obsess on how completely unprepared I am.

I found myself overwhelmed. All I could think about was the state of limbo we are in right now. I still have a lot of packing to do; the house is a wreck, and we’ve barely made any preparations for Sam’s arrival. IN TWO AND A HALF MONTHS!

I was slowly, steadily freaking out.

The anxious thoughts formed barbed wire as they circled tight knots in my head. My mind drifted to my sleeping husband.

I think it’s ironic how the things you love about a person are also the things that can drive you stark-raving mad. For instance, Brett has many wonderful qualities. He’s kind, sensitive, caring, affectionate, and extremely supportive. He’s also very laid-back.

By virtue of being laid-back, one CANNOT also be ambitious, driven, or a go-getter. Those are MY characteristics; that’s why he married ME.

I began to think of Brett’s job search. He’s been looking, but he’s not been !!! LOOKING!!! with the same sense of urgency I would be.

As I sat there, stewing my own juices, I felt a familiar flare-up of anger. At 3:00 a.m., I shook my husband awake. In short order, I informed him he was a rotten provider for his family. I sat up in bed, with my arms crossed, ranting and raving about his shortcomings in the weak morning light.

Brett regarded me carefully though one open eye. He took in my wrath calmly and quietly. When I had run out of steam, I just sat there huffing.

Turning on his side, he propped himself up and opened both eyes. He patted my leg.

“Sweetheart, I am looking. I promise. I’m honestly trying very hard. It might not seem like it to you, but I am.”

He smiled serenely, and I fought the urge to scream.

One does NOT wake one’s husband up at 3:00 a.m., screaming insults, to be dealt with kindly and reasonably. One wakes up one’s husband at 3:00 a.m., screaming insults, to FIGHT with someone, to work off one’s anger until someone storms out and insists on sleeping on the couch.

The fact he was so darn nice to me made me seethe. For about a minute.

Then, of course, I burst into tears as Brett groggily sat up and held me tight.

Out tumbled all my worries.

…our uncertain housing situation, the pigsty/paper explosion state of our home, being ill-equipped for Sam, the fact all three of our furniture pieces are broken (which is inconvenient when you’re NOT pregnant, but downright infuriating if you are. I literally cannot sit down in my own living room.)

Our bed is 21 years old and in horrible condition which I’m 99% sure contributes to my insomnia. I hate that I can’t be comfortable in my own home. There is not even one resting place.

I’ll likely lose my job and insurance in October. What if he’s still unemployed then? And, of course, money, money, money difficulties.

On and on, my troubles just poured out. My big explosion was about Sam’s impending arrival.

“What if we don’t have anywhere for him to sleep ? What if our baby doesn’t even have a room? What if he’s a hobo baby?” I wailed.

Eventually, the sobs subsided to sniffles. The two of us just sat there silent on the bed.

I looked at Brett. His expression was loving, but he didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything to say. He knows he can’t “fix” any of this. It’s just the way it is.

He just hugged me and eventually went back to sleep. I reluctantly lay down next to him. I started to pray God would even out these unpredictable pregnancy hormones. I prayed potently for sleep to come soon. I prayed God would give me peace and guidance and that my mind would be “stayed on Him.”

As soon as my prayers took wing, a thought occurred to me.

“Huh!” I said out loud.

Brett rolled over immediately, no doubt wondering if I was standing by his side of the bed, holding a meat cleaver and whistling the theme to Psycho.


“I was just thinking about Mary.”

“Mary who?”

“Mary the mother of Jesus. I mean, she was on the move when she was pregnant. For crying out loud, she had to ride a donkey! She gave birth in a dirty, nasty stable. Mary didn’t have a baby room all set up. JESUS was a hobo baby!”

“Okay,” Brett breathed out a sigh of relief that I had regained some sense of perspective. In three seconds flat, he was snoring his way to a good night’s sleep.

My mind was still active, as I imagined the profound discomfort of riding a donkey for a long distance while pregnant. Or giving birth in a filthy stable far away from your family and friends.

I had to smile when I thought how no matter where I go into labor, it’s highly unlikely I’ll have to ride a donkey to my destination. And, unless I go into labor at Uncle Bruce and Aunt Louise’s farm, I doubt I’ll be giving birth in a stable.

I know if the foreclosure papers arrive right when Sam’s born, or a week before or a week after, God will provide a place for us to stay. I suddenly realized something else.

This was God’s PERFECT timing. I mean, we tried to have a baby for nine years. There were times of plenty in those years, times without the bleak burden of worry we constantly carry now. God did not choose those times. His timing is RIGHT now.

Sure, from a strictly human perspective, the timing of this baby sucks. But it’s not our timing that matters. I am not privy to the plans of God. I have no choice but to trust Him.

God knows I am a planner, and in His wisdom, He’s taken that control away from me. He’s not allowing me to plan. He’s just asking me to trust and obey. To have that tiny mustard seed of faith.

The definition of faith sang though my mind. Faith is believing in something you cannot see. Faith is sitting where you don’t see a chair. Faith is lying down where you don’t see a bed. Faith is saying goodbye to earthly security and embracing a wild, rambunctious, God-ordained unknown.

FAITH is the lesson we are learning.

Peace flooded through me. I know Christians through the years have experienced this very same moment. This basic, child-like lesson we must learn over and over again.

The Lord brought another thought to mind before I drifted off to sleep.

Brett’s unemployment is ALSO in God’s plan. The fact that Brett has been unemployed has allowed him to come to every single OB appointment, maternal-fetal medicine meeting, and ultrasound.

My doctors and nurses know him by sight, and he knows all the various details of my medical conditions. If I’m incapacitated at any moment, Brett is fully armed with the knowledge to make informed decisions in my best interest.

He’s experienced this pregnancy along with me, and in doing so, has come to love and advocate for Sam with a fervency I hadn’t expected.

We lost Brett’s Jeep in the bankruptcy. At the time, I was devastated. However, sharing the car and riding with each other has been a wonderful bonding experience. We look forward to our shared trips, when before it seemed our cars (and our lives) were compartmentalized into “his” and “hers.”

Now, it’s “ours.” And if that’s not what marriage is about, then I don’t know what is.

My last fleeting thoughts were of the similarities between Brett and I and Mary and Joseph. Between Sam and my Savior.

Like Mary and Joseph, we don’t know where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing when Sam arrives. We don’t know that we’ll have a place to go, but we have to trust God to provide it.

Like Jesus, Sam is being born in an uncertain time and place in our history. But also like Jesus, Sam will be loved by his parents, no matter what the surrounding circumstance.

And, who knows, maybe Sam will be a hobo baby, too.

Eventually, I was able to drift off. To sleep the calm, untroubled sleep of a child of God. I felt nurtured and cared for by my loving Father, almost as if His angels surrounded my bed watching me sleep.

Just like I imagine I’ll watch Sam sleep. Thinking, “I promise to take care of you, child.” Knowing that God carries us both close to His side.

Knowing He’ll take care of both of us. His child and her child.

Rest came easy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Most Honest Friend I Never Had

I like being different.

I always have. I don’t know if it’s a product of being an only child and having to compare myself against the entire world, or if it’s just my personality.

I learned early on that being different in a “quirky” way was better than being different in a “weird” way (to steal a line from Runaway Bride).

For instance, I’ve always embraced my left-handedness, partially because Dad was a lefty, and partially because it made me part of a special club with limited, genetically-chosen membership.

Growing up, I eschewed the “norm” and felt free to embrace what I really loved. I stayed far away from competition, school spirit, and cliques. Not that any of them would have had me anyway.

In college, I abhorred the Gap. I remember saying, “If you want to look like everyone else, shop the Gap!” Later, I included my nemesis, Old Navy, in that old chestnut.

Of course, there were times I wanted desperately to fit in. I wanted to be able to swap clothes like my friends did, but I was always too big. There were times I wanted a boy to like me, but it never happened.

Overall, though, I was happy being who I was, because I had my words. My words allowed me to defend or advocate the quirks that made me Ann-Marie.

However, my own (non-stop) inner dialogue analyzes everything. It might shock you after reading this vocabulary volcano of a blog, but I don’t write or say a tenth of what my mind analyzes on a daily basis.

My husband hoards words like they are a limited commodity, but he admits to being fascinated when I stream-of-consciousness analyze my thoughts on any given topic. He’s way too nice to say it (and he wouldn’t waste the words anyway), but he thinks I over-analyze things.

He’s right, of course. One of my bosses used to say, “You can over-think anything to death.”

Brett is really the only person who has experienced me in “analysis mode.” Even though I chatter on like a woodpecker to my family and friends, I’ve spared them from this particular character flaw. I was pretty sure over-analyzing things was just “me.”

A couple of years ago, my Aunt Linda, who lives in France, began to visit the States regularly. Aunt Linda and I share a common bond – the same August 20 birthday. We also share our birthday with my Aunt Laurie.

I’ve always admired the symmetry. Aunt Linda is Mom’s oldest sister; Aunt Laurie is Mom’s youngest sister, and I am Mom’s only daughter. It’s a cool birthday trinity.

Since I didn’t grow up with either Aunt Linda (France) or Aunt Laurie (Tennessee), I didn’t know either of them very well. During Aunt Linda’s recent visits to the States, I was finally able to develop an adult friendship with her.

Mom and Gary hosted Aunt Linda for most of the time, so I often found myself sitting around the dining room table engaged in familial conversation.

I was surprised when Mom mentioned Aunt Linda tended to analyze everything. Intrigued, I began to pay attention. Much to my delight, I discovered Aunt Linda had the exact same thought process I did! Unlike me, though, she wasn’t afraid to express her thoughts and opinions out loud.

I sat mesmerized as she explained why I was the way I was, why Brett did the things he did, why her kids did things a certain way, and so on. I basked in finding another person who was a great deal like me.

Aunt Linda sought the reasons why – why people do what they do – why they are the way they are.

Questions that no one else asked out of politeness, Aunt Linda would barge right in and analyze to her heart’s content.

I am not a believer in astrology, but I will say that most descriptions of Leo’s illustrate me (and Aunt Linda) down to a “T.”

Either way, as much as I have come to adore and treasure my Aunt Linda, I’m afraid I will never be able to be as outspoken (at least verbally) and insightfully honest as she is.

One time I did, however, meet someone who was.

It’s no secret Brett and I have almost no “couple” friends. Other than Mom and Gary (who HAVE to hang out with us) and Linda and Aaron, we’ve yet to find people who like both of us enough to develop a close relationship.

I don’t mean to say we’re friendless – individually, we have friends.

But as a couple, we just don’t click with that many people. Either they like Brett and not me, or vice versa. Brett’s not a sports nut, and he hates small talk. I am not domestic (IN THE LEAST), and I tend to speak my sarcastic, little mind on pretty much everything.

It has taken us years and years and years (the third one is just for me) to accept this. When we finally realized it, we just shrugged our shoulders, thanked God at least we had each other, and sucked it up like the rejection pros we are.

For a short time after we got married, we tried very hard to make “couple” friends. Thankfully, we were part of a large group at Windsor and actually managed to make a few connections.

I remember meeting a couple who was part of the group, although we didn’t know them very well. They seemed very nice. He was a bit quieter, like my gigantic mute, and she seemed funny, lively, and quite compatible with yours truly.

After talking it over with Brett, I decided to invite them over for dinner.

I approached *Mamie and asked if she and *Conan would like to come over for dinner one night.

She turned to me politely, a condescending smile on her face.

“You know, we have a lot of family in the area and quite a few friends already. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that we’re really full up on friends right now. Thanks anyway.”

I swear I thought she was kidding.

I even did that “ha, ha” you do when you’re 99% sure someone’s joking. Then, horrors of horrors, I took in the slightly puzzled look on her face and realized she was completely serious.

I stood rooted to the ground in shock. The rejection shot through me like a sword. Even though she’d couched the slap-in-the-face in oh-so-nice politeness, I was fully aware I had been burned.

I stumbled out to the car in a daze, as Brett pumped me for information on our new friends. As I babbled out the story, Brett's eyes grew wide.

“They’re ‘full up’ on friends? What does that even mean? How can they have too many friends?”

My sweet, unassuming husband couldn’t comprehend the fact we could barely cajole two people to see a movie with us, and these people were turning away crowds of adoring fans.

“She…she wasn’t even nice about it. I mean, she could have at least said they’d have dinner with us and then dodged me for a date later. I mean, that would have spared my feelings,” I stuttered, still reeling.

We were both pretty silent on the way home, as we absorbed the incident. Then, out of nowhere, I started laughing.

Brett looked over, concerned. He knows (as many men do) a wife’s hysterical laughter is only a treacherous half-step removed from hysterical sobbing.

But I was really laughing.

“I mean, she was honest right? They don’t like us, and they don’t want to be our friends. She all but came out and said it.” I choked out, still cracking up.

I turned to Brett. “This is actually okay. I mean, it hurts, yeah, but think about it. This way we never have to wonder. I don’t have to put their names in our address book or send them a single Christmas card. We don’t ever have to worry they feel excluded when we don’t invite them to things. We don’t have to sit next to them or make small talk. No pretending. It takes all the pressure off.”

True, if I’d ever been approached by someone I didn’t want to be friends with (has yet to happen), I’d be absolutely polite and then dodge, dodge, dodge them like crazy. Mamie just wasn’t going to play games, so she laid it all out there on the line.

I’m not saying she wasn’t a stone, cold viper to treat us like that, but hey, at least she was honest about how she felt.

Even now, I can’t help but look back and laugh. The truth is that Mamie is the most honest friend I never had.

And I couldn’t be happier about it. After all, with friends like that…

But, who knows, maybe I’m just over-analyzing.

*Names have been changed, because you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Twix and a Laugh Decades Young

Someone else has to be responsible, right?

I mean, I can’t turn out this way and be the ONLY one responsible, can I? Well, the good news is that I’m not! The woman responsible for all of my successes and none of my failures is enjoying a BIG birthday today.

I promised Mom I wouldn’t reveal her age on my blog, so I will just say it rhymes with “twix-and-a-laugh” decades and that she now qualifies for Medicare.

I’m so grateful God had given me a mother who is loving, caring, kind, thoughtful, funny, and godly. I know what you’re thinking, but she guarantees I wasn’t adopted!

I would be most appreciative if you would stop over at Mom’s blog and wish her a Happy Birthday with many happy returns!

Happy birthday, Mom!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My First Mother's Day

You know how some girls spend their lives planning the perfect wedding?

Not me. I was NEVER going to get married.

Men were jerks; I was more than ready to be completely self-sufficient. I was going to have an awesome group of girlfriends, an apartment in Chicago, and be an award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune. I was going to have a little dog named Shotzy and interview lots and lots of famous people.

I thought when I was older, 45 or so, I’d meet someone. He’d be funny and short with dark, curly hair. Maybe by then, if we’d both been seasoned enough, there’d the possibility of a relationship.

Soon I learned when we make plans, God laughs. Or in my case, where God experienced a hysterical fit of uncontrollable mirth.

There I was, fresh out of college at 22 and engaged to be married. To a tall, serious, light-haired Swede who needed me to explain the humor in everything from Far Side comics to Saturday Night Live sketches.

I knew nothing about planning a wedding. I had no clue where to start or what to do. If it hadn’t been for my mother, my aunt Kathy, and my cousin Charity, I may have gone completely insane.

Mom, still grieving from Dad’s death the previous year, was a solid rock for me. Not only did she manage to pull the funds together to give me an amazing wedding, we only had one huge, screaming argument in the parking lot of Best Buy. And even that ended in tears of laughter when we realized what we were doing.

I think I gave Aunt Kathy the surprise of a lifetime when I told her I was going to ask her daughter, Charity, to be my Maid of Honor. Aunt Kathy was delighted, but knowing our history, asked me why.

I was honest. “Charity is the closest thing I have to a sister.”

Charity and I experienced a rocky relationship in childhood and tense, tenuous teenage years. It wasn’t until college when we formed a combined bond of friendship and family. Going through that process made me realize Charity was absolutely the sister I’d never had.

We (still) couldn’t BE more different, and yet I love and cherish her for exactly who she is and wouldn’t change her for the world.

It was Aunt Kathy who helped put the wedding together, and Charity who spent countless hours advising me on the finer points of everything from cakes to wedding favors.

I will never be able to repay her for personally hand-wrapping what seemed like thousands of Hershey kisses in cellophane and arranging them in gorgeous rose-bouquet centerpieces. I couldn’t have picked a more dedicated Maid of Honor.

My entourage gave me free reign to make choices, only stepping in when it looked like I was going to make a fool of myself. I nixed traditional flowers and replaced them with bronze lanterns. I carried my mother-in-law’s wedding Bible down the aisle. I chose my intended’s wardrobe which everyone later said made him look like a priest.

Perhaps, what I am most proud of is the fact I managed to sneak both an Allison Krauss ballad (When You Say Nothing At All) and Trisha Yearwood song (How Do I Live) into our ceremony, in spite of our conservative church’s music policy.

The day of our wedding came and went. I remember thinking everything went perfectly. That day is such a blur. It’s true what they say, “Your wedding is the most expensive day you’ll forget.”

After our honeymoon, we raced back to our new apartment, eager to view our wedding video. My Uncle Bruce had thoughtfully offered his talents as our videographer.

Imagine our dismay when the video stalled and refused to play. Brett monkeyed around with it for a while but to no avail. We were disappointed, but the wedding was still fresh in both our minds, so we put the video back on the shelf and resolved to fix it later.

Every couple of months, we’d try to play it again. No such luck.

We took the defunct video with us in the move to our new house and added it to our growing VHS movie collection. As the switch from VHS to DVD loomed, I carefully sorted through our VHS tapes, saving only the ones I thought were worthy. Our broken wedding video made the cut.

Eventually, I moved a full container of our meaningful VHS tapes into the basement where they sat for years.

About a month ago, I was clearing out our basement, packing, and preparing for our eventual move to an apartment. I came across the VHS container. Brett carted the whole thing upstairs where we both examined it closely.

“What are we going to do with all these?” I said. “I know the Salvation Army doesn’t want them. I mean, it’s an obsolete technology. We’re just going to have to throw them away.”

As I sorted and stacked the tapes for disposal, my husband pulled one tape out of the mix.

“Is this our wedding video?”

“Honey,” I explained patiently. “You know that thing is never going to work. Let’s just scrap it.”

“Let me play with it,” Brett suggested and squirreled it away into the living room before I could snatch it away.

A few days later, Brett was applying for a job at Woodman’s when he saw a service advertising VHS-to-DVD transfer. He excitedly took our video in - only to get a call later saying the tape was too damaged. He was crestfallen.

“NOW, can I scrap it?” I asked, impatiently. I realize this makes me sound heartless, but I am ruthless when in de-cluttering mode.

Brett only shrugged and tucked the video away, while I sighed and rolled my eyes.

Yesterday, I woke up bright and early. I lugged my laptop into bed, connected to the Internet, and settled in to watch the season finale of Dollhouse online. The theme music was just starting when Brett opened the bedroom door.

“Can you come downstairs for a second?”

I struggled not to scream. “What is it?”

“Just come downstairs.”

I felt the familiar irritation poking at me. “What IS IT, honey? I’m comfortable, and being pregnant makes it a chore to move!”

I am only this hard on Brett, because we’ve HAD this conversation a MILLION times. I’ll be sitting somewhere, absolutely comfy, and Brett will say, “Come look at this.”

I’ll say, “What is it?”

He’ll say, “Just come look.”

I’ll drag myself wherever he is, and 99% of the time, it’s a complete waste of time.

“We’re out of milk,” he’ll say, opening the fridge.

“Is that a brown recluse spider?” He’ll point to a daddy long legs.

“Does this look weird?” He’ll question, referring to any number of things.

I always end up angry, saying “Why did I have to get UP for THIS? Seriously, we could have had this WHOLE exchange without me moving AT ALL!”

So, my patience was paper-thin. “What IS IT?”

“Just come downstairs,” my husband said for the third time.

“ARGH!” I screamed as I threw back my covers and unceremoniously clomped down the stairs. “WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS? JUST TELL ME WHAT IT IS ALREADY!”

Brett was waiting at the base of the stairs. I screwed my face up at him and shot him one heck of an evil look as I followed his pointing finger into the living room.

I figured he saw a cute commercial – one that would be surely OVER by the time I got downstairs. What a pain.

Instead, I was shocked into submission as I saw the interior of Windsor Baptist Church on our television screen.

“What is this?” I asked, collapsing onto the couch.

“It’s our wedding video. I fixed it. I was up all night unspooling the old tape onto a different tape, and I finally fixed it.” Brett said proudly.

I tore my gaze away from the screen and studied the tools spread on the floor.

“How long did this take you?” I asked, incredulous.

“16 hours. I wanted to surprise you on your first Mother’s Day. I thought this would be something Sammy might want to have someday.”

Tears pricked my eyes.

Brett snuggled onto the couch next to me, and for the first time in 9 years, we saw our wedding unfold before our eyes.

As Uncle Bruce’s camera scanned the packed-out auditorium, we called out familiar faces. I picked out my friends from college, my (then) new job, and friends of Mom and Dad. I felt a jolt when the camera panned over, and I saw Aunt Kathy.

There she was, in her glorious halo of white hair, talking and joking with the people around her. She was taking photos and laughing. “It’s Aunt Kathy,” I said, joyously, soaking up every second the camera stayed on her.

The camera moved on to Brett’s side of the church. “It’s my mom,” Brett choked out, on the verge of tears, as we watched our sweet Jean walk down the aisle with Mom.

Uncle Bruce’s ability was proven, as the camera swayed and stayed right where we needed it.

We pointed out all the dear friends and family who have since gone on. Brett’s mom and grandfather, Aunt Kathy, Aunt Sheran, John Haynie, Ollie Pryor, Oscar Vandervort – all there, at our wedding, smiling and laughing, enjoying the day.

Tears ran down our faces as we tried to take in this unexpected gift.

We watched our younger, skinnier selves take the leap into the future, guided by Pastor Larsen.

Pastor had already been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Ours was the next to last wedding he would perform. He would die one year later, exactly one day before the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

And yet, for this moment, there he was, giving us a biblical challenge for our years ahead. He was smiling, rejoicing to perform the wedding of the daughter of one of his dearest friends. Little did we know, he’d be rejoicing in heaven, along with Dad, in less than a year.

The two of us raked in the nostalgia. We cried, but we laughed, too. I saw friends and family I had no idea had even been there.

“Michelle was pregnant at my wedding?!” I was shocked.

Uncle Bruce painstakingly captured every wedding moment - the pre-event auditorium scan, the ceremony, the newly-married couple greeting everyone, our lovely carriage ride, even down to the last moments of the reception.

We treasured every second, every additional moment the camera lingered on Jean, Aunt Kathy, and Pastor.

When the video finally wound down, the screen fuzzed to static. I was emotionally exhausted but unbelievably thrilled. I couldn’t believe I had almost thrown this treasure out.

I was suddenly grateful Brett hadn’t been willing to give it up. He’d set his stubborn, Soderstrom mind to save this video. He hadn’t given up, despite the discouragement from me, and I was the one who had benefited.

He’d given me the perfect first Mother’s Day gift – a present from the past. A present for the future.

I can’t wait until the day we can show this video to Sam, and I can tell him what lengths his father went to preserve those precious moments for his son. And his wife.

Happy Mother’s Day to me, indeed.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Jerked Around

“Jerk” is my go-to word.

You know - the word you use when you’re really mad at someone or want to express extreme dismay or displeasure.

I don’t know how long I’ve been using it, but I sure didn’t learn it at my parents’ knees. My parents never said a word against anyone. In fact, growing up, I believed my parents just LOVED everybody, and everybody just LOVED my parents.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that Mom finally disclosed some of the people who were actually quite mean, hurtful, or just plain nasty to my parents. I never would have guessed.

Even now, Mom doesn’t use any kind of strong language. If she is forced, she may say (and I’ve only heard it a handful of times) that she “doesn’t care” for that person. That’s it. That is the full measure of Mom’s wrath.

My dad always stressed the importance of a fully developed vocabulary. He thought swearing or strong language was “lazy.” He would always say, “There are better ways – and words - with which to get your point across.”

Still, sometimes people would make me so mad I’d have to say SOMETHING. After a while, I realized “jerk” worked for most situations.

I remember sitting in Mr. T’s (not THE Mr. T) Bible class at the beginning of eighth grade. Eighth grade was a banner year for me. It was the first year without Josh, and I was no longer a dead woman walking. Entering my classroom was truly exhilarating now that I’d dropped the nauseating sense of fear I’d been living with since fifth grade.

Mr. T was a new teacher, so I really felt like I was getting a fresh start.

Even all these years later, I can still recall Mr. T’s most memorable Bible class. It was on “the appearance of evil.”

He talked to us about how the motivation behind our actions, not just our actions, was what mattered to God. He gave an interesting example. He said if we hit our thumb with a hammer and said, “Doggone!” but were actually thinking God’s name in vain that it was still a sin. He also expressed his dislike over the word “doggone,” feeling it was an inappropriate word to use, anyway.

John raised his hand and said that if he hit his thumb with a hammer, he didn’t know if he’d be able to think fast enough to say the right thing. He also said “Nobody says ‘doggone’ anymore, anyway.”


(Interesting side note: John eventually became a twice-convicted arsonist. So, at least we know he wasn’t yelling “doggone!” over his fires.)

Over the next hour, we talked about drinking non-alcoholic drinks, attending G-rated movies, women wearing pants, and eating candy cigarettes. All, according to Mr. T, were giving in to the “appearance of evil.”

While I wasn’t sure about all that (mostly hogwash), Mr. T’s lecture on using words seem to resonate with me. Combined with my parents’ feelings on using “strong” language, I resolved to use my words wisely in the years ahead.

You have to remember - I was coming off of my years with Josh. The only defense mechanism I’d developed during those years was my language. I was pretty verbally skilled, but so was Josh. It was easy for him to make fun of me, and if I chose to live dangerously, I could easily keep up with him.

I only remember delivering two insults to Josh. There were two things I (and everybody else) knew Josh was extremely sensitive about.

One was his height. Josh was blond-haired, blue-eyed, clear-complexioned, and charismatic, but he was short. Shorter than all the boys in our class. Shorter than some of the girls. And he hated it.

One time, he delivered a casual insult to me across an unstaffed study hall. In a show of true smart-aleckery, I calmly said, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you stand up and say that? Oh wait, you are.”

Burn. Truly fantastic burn.

He was furious, but the teacher walked in right about then, and (for once) I got away with it. Triumph tasted good.

Josh also abhorred his slightly upturned eyes. They suggested an Asian heritage somewhere along his genetic line, something Josh thought clashed with his Aryan superiority.

He’d been cracking the whip over my head all day long that particular day in seventh grade. So, when we got to study hall, I’d had it. Buoyed by my previous study hall heroics, I pointed to the map on the wall identifying different sailing vessels. One vessel as titled as a “Chinese Junk.”

“Look, Josh! They named a boat after you,” I said, valiantly.

(I realize now that was EXTREMELY racist and COMPLETELY inappropriate, but it sure hit its mark with Josh.)

I saw his fists ball at his sides, but once again, a teacher’s entrance blocked him from doing anything about it.

Later, I got a backhand cracked across my mouth and a session with his henchmen. But, I have to say, it was totally worth it, as the entire class kept cracking up about it for at least a full week afterward.

Now that I was in eighth grade and Josh was long gone, I was sure I would sail through the rest of life unencumbered. I would have no need for “jerk.”

Ah, but I was wrong.

Over the years, I’ve made “jerk” my own. When someone cuts me off in traffic, when people are rude or insensitive, or when something wriggles under my skin and irritates me to no end – all “jerks.”

When Brett does something that drives me nuts, he’s a “jerk.” I mean, it has to be a pretty serious offense, since I don’t drag the “j” word out for everything. Just when I’m worked up, and just when it matters.

A couple of years ago, I switched to “jackal,” until my friend Angie called me on it. She said, “If you’re going to say ‘jackal,’ you might as well just say the other word, since it’s obvious what you mean.”

Her reproach, delivered good-naturedly, sent me back to eighth grade where I realized Mr. T had a valid point about the appearance of evil. Thinking a swear word and saying “jackal” was me just putting a mask on my true intentions.

Being able to say that I don’t swear because I’m Christian, but then doing it in my heart is definitely giving in to the appearance of evil.

I wish I could say I’ve resolved this issue. Or that “jerk” is the worst thing I’ve ever said. (It’s not). But I’m continually working to figure out a way to incorporate my true feelings while using words that don’t kow-tow to the lowest common denominator.

If you’ve got any language secrets or have found your own resolution to this problem, I’d love to hear it.

I’m sorry this post has gone on so long. I can be a real jerk about that.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

All By Myself

One of the things I loved about being an only child was being alone.

I spent countless hours by myself - reading, playing, making up stories, and going on imaginary adventures. I learned a lot about myself during that time.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was to like myself. In fact, I credit that alone time with teaching me to push myself to excel, to think things out thoroughly, and to accept myself.

Being an only child taught me so much.

I learned to enjoy both being by myself and with others. Only children are naturally thrust into social survival mode. We have to sink or swim when it comes to making friends. We can’t run back home and play with brother or sister if things don’t work out. There is no back-up plan.

Learning to be self-sufficient when it came to making friends was a huge life lesson. One I didn’t even realize I was learning until later.

Whether I was sitting in an unfamiliar classroom in a Rock Valley College Whiz Kids writing class, holding a tennis racket and surrounded by strangers at the Park District’s summer program, or finding a friendly face during a babysitting CPR class at the Rockford Library, I became adept at making friends.

I’m not saying I was the life of the party. In fact, I was usually pretty quiet until I could pinpoint the person I thought would be most receptive to my advances.

Then, I would move in, wait for the opportune moment – you know, the one you eventually look back on as the moment your friendship cemented – and then I would crack the joke, give the sympathetic head nod, or just smile – and a new friendship would start to blossom.

God has been so good to me. In childhood, I easily made friends with the Dresden Avenue neighborhood kids. I also had the up-for-anything Boehm cousins as my personal buoys during those formative years.

During my school years, I had Tania, my steady rock and ray of constant sunshine. In college, I had three fantastic roommates and a whole floor of wonderful women who stood in as my family. Post-college, I’ve had co-workers who make me laugh, and church sisters who make me exceedingly glad to be a Christian.

There’s no need to say it, but I’ve been blessed.

So, why is it that a recent offhand comment sent me spiraling backwards?

I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and she said something that sent a cold spike down my back. Even though I know she didn’t mean anything by it, I suddenly felt extremely alone.

I said earlier I like being alone. But being alone and feeling alone are two VERY different things.

As my conversation partner reeled off her comment, I had a sudden sinking feeling. Realization dawned that not one “friend” had offered to do this special thing for me. In one fell swoop, my joy over being pregnant went flat and dark.

I found myself obsessing over the comment. I began to examine my friendships and felt a wash of self-pity as face after familiar face slid through my mind. These people were supposed to be my friends and not one of them had offered to do this thing.

Were they really my friends? I found myself questioning. I hated that my apparent lack of true friends was evident to the person who had mentioned the comment.

I felt exposed. I felt like I was back in school when Josh had made me repeat that I was fat, ugly, stupid, and no one would ever like me.

Was he simply prophetic?

My obsession began to take on gigantic proportions. I am a verbal person by nature, and so Brett had to listen to a litany of how I felt. I used better vocabulary, but the gist of my rant was “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat worms.”

Complaining about a lack of friends to Brett is like someone who missed lunch grumbling to a starving Ethiopian.

My husband knows what it is like to be truly friendless, in a way I’ve never had to experience. In the whole of his life, he’s had maybe two good friends. One of whom betrayed him and caused immeasurable hurt and vulnerability that still manifests itself today.

When we were dating, Brett told me how much it meant to him to finally have someone "in his corner." I think the fact he knew I was his friend meant more to him than anything romantic or physical in our relationship.

Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means, but knowing he chose me to be the person standing in his corner still brings me great joy. I am swamped by love when I realize I’m the only person standing up for him.

Being Brett’s friend is a rich and rewarding experience - one that has compelled his love and friendship back to me with consistent devotion.

So, he listens patiently when I rave about how alone I feel. This happens more often than you would think. Brett has told me countless times he doesn’t understand the complex relationships that exist between women.

“It’s like you’re all from another planet,” he says truthfully.

He’s right, of course. There is such navigation, focus, and minesweeping that takes place in a good many female friendship.

After two hours of heaving epitaphs and slamming sarcasm, I was spent. I wearily climbed the stairs and sat on my bed munching on my discontent.

Finally, I called Mom.

“Tell me I’m wrong to be mad about this,” I challenged, as I recounted my earlier conversation.

My mom, a saint in many ways, would have been well within her rights to say, “Yep, you’re wrong, kiddo,” and let it rest.

But instead, she listened to the whole story, and asked, “Has this been brewing all night?”

“Yes,” I hissed into the phone, as my anger rekindled.

It’s hard to be brutally honest with me. I get defensive, protective, and very, very sarcastic when called on the carpet.

But Mom is a brave soul, so she threw caution to the wind and barged right in. That’s what mothers are for, right?

“Honey,” she said in her calmest tone. “You know the Devil will try, in any way he can, to cause division. He wants to see our relationships crumble. He wants to see us struggle and fail. He wants us to give in to our human nature. He will do anything he can to get a foothold in our lives.”

I felt a tiny flush rush into my face. Was I that stupid?

I hadn’t just given the Devil a foothold. I’d presented him with a ladder, a map, and offered myself as his climbing partner.

I’d sacrificed my joy to this ridiculous fluff. I’d taken time out from my delight in feeling Sam kick. I’d allowed the miracle of my pregnancy to take a back seat to my own bitterness. I’d denigrated my friends; friends who have proven themselves over and over again. I’d been a complete and utter fool.

As I absorbed Mom’s take on the situation, I was ashamed of my earlier reaction. I’d given in, without a fight, to my own selfish human nature. I’d been drawn into a pity party where I was the only attendee. I had marched into Me Town and proclaimed myself President.

After figuring out a combat strategy with Mom, one that involved prayer and an unselfish spirit, I felt a million times better.

In the aftermath, I realized THIS was one of the reasons I have a blog. I looked back through my posts and saw entry after entry of how much God has blessed me – with good, kind, and caring friends.

I was reminded, by own words (one’s own words can sure sting when used in reproach), how greatly God has shed His grace on my life.

I spent the rest of the night by myself. Brett was busy downstairs, so I just stayed upstairs and reveled in the solitude.

I still like being alone. But, I was encouraged with the feeling that I’ve never felt less alone. God is good, and He’s surrounded me with people I know will be there for me when I need them.

So, today I’m just happy some people like me. Not everybody hates me.

And frankly, I’m just glad I won’t have to eat any worms.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Shower Song

Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful day! Day I will never forget. After I wandered in darkness alone, Jesus my Savior I met. Oh, what a tender, compassionate friend. He met the need of my heart. Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He made all the darkness depart!

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul. When at the cross, the Savior made me whole. My sins were washed away, and my night was turned to day. Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!

This is my shower song.

I love showering. I love taking baths. I love swimming. Heck, I love water in general!

Each morning when I shower, I’m filled with joy. I don’t know what it is, but all that water just makes me deep-down-to-my-toes happy. And when I’m happy, I love to sing.

For some reason, this song is always the first one that comes to mind. I don’t know why. I learned it a long time ago at my Christian school, and for some reason, I easily recall the lyrics and the wonderful melody.

My second go-to shower song is Friend of a Wounded Heart which is a much more serious song, but it seems to be firmly cemented in my shower repertoire.

I shower-sing Heaven Came Down so much that it has permeated Brett’s subconscious. The other day he was humming it and even said, “What IS that song?” I had to quickly turn away before he saw my smile.

So, how about you? Do you sing in the shower?

If so, what’s your shower song, and why do you love it?