Eddie and Annie

It was a Thanksgiving unlike any other. Joining our family were two people from the soup kitchen where my mom volunteered.

My mother had decorated the table just as she would for any holiday: a linen tablecloth, her best dishes, lit candles and fancy napkins. Soft music played in the background. However, this year extended family did not surround the table. Instead, sitting at the table were Annie and Eddie.

Eddie wasn’t homeless, but I strongly doubted his home had running water. He wreaked of unwashed skin and filthy clothes. His fingernails were caked with dirt. Eddie had cerebral palsy and needed a cane to walk. His speech was slow and slurred, and often his words were so garbled they were unintelligible. Eddie was also fond of collecting items he found on the streets on his way to the soup kitchen. He would proudly display these trinkets. For example, when he visited our home, he wore a belt covered with bottle caps. People always knew when Eddie was approaching because they could hear his knickknacks jingling and jangling from afar.

Annie sat to Eddie’s right. Annie resided in a government subsidized motel. Even though Annie’s motel room had running water, she chose to douse herself with what smelled like gallons of inexpensive perfume – as though she were attempting to mask an unpleasant odor. Annie would also paint layers of makeup on her face, giving herself a clown-like appearance. Annie was also a scowler. If she enjoyed having Thanksgiving at our house, you would never have known.

The meal proceeded like any other, except for my trying to chew and swallow while holding my breath. At six years old, I knew Eddie was a kind man and I could tell he was absolutely thrilled to be having dinner in our home, but his body odor was overpowering. Annie’s perfume did nothing to mask Eddie’s smell. Instead, it made a rather nauseating combination.

Dinner conversation consisted of Eddie telling stories at painstakingly long lengths as he struggled to pronounce words. When he reached the the end of a story, Eddie would burst out laughing. My  parents, brother and I would exchange glances that read, “Did you understand that?” “No. I was hoping you did.” We would smile and laugh with Eddie, hoping he would never suspect our ignorance. Annie glowered and poked at her turkey.

After dessert it was time to bring Annie and Eddie back to their homes. I climbed into my parent’s Datsun, squished between Eddie and Annie in the backseat. The smell of Eddie’s unwashed clothes and body and Annie’s perfume was overwhelming, and I couldn’t wait for this Thanksgiving to end. I couldn’t understand why my mother would want Annie and Eddie at our Thanksgiving dinner. As far as I was concerned, the meal had been ruined by Eddie’s stench and dirty fingernails. Annie’s grumpiness hadn’t help much either.

Looking back, I now understand how my mom was able to see past Eddie’s unwashed body and soiled clothes. She saw a kind man who had no one to share Thanksgiving with, and if it weren’t for my mom, he would have spent Thanksgiving alone. For my mom, it was an honor to provide Eddie with a Thanksgiving meal and company.

As for Annie, my mom treated her unhappiness with love and warmth. My mom suspected Annie’s past was not an easy one, so she did not begrudge Annie’s lack of gratefulness. My mom didn’t need Annie to say the food was delicious or that she was thankful to be invited. Watching Annie (who was dressed in costume jewelry and her usual layers of makeup) eat meant more to my mom than any thanks Annie could have given.

We dropped Annie off at her motel room before driving deep into the woods to Eddie’s home. The night sky was brilliant, filled with stars brighter than any I had ever seen. Eddie’s house was at the end of a dirt road. It looked like something I would have seen drawn in a children’s Halloween book. There was no electricity and the front steps were leaning precariously to the side. They were also coated with ice. I sat in the car, watching Eddie slowly climb his front stairs poking the ice with his cane before cautiously taking a step. My father – who was following Eddie – paused to chip some of the ice off the steps before he and my mom made sure Eddie was safely inside.

When my parents returned, we immediately rolled down all of the windows to air out the car. Eddie’s smell and Annie’s perfume seemed to have permeated our noses and the vinyl seats.  We drove home silent and thoughtful – the brisk November air bathing our faces. While I couldn’t wait for that Thanksgiving to end, I still think about it thirty years later.

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Your Memoir

If you were to write a memoir, what would it contain? First, let me define “memoir.” The Oxford Dictionary states that a memoir is, “a biography written from personal knowledge.” O“an essay on a learned subject.”

When I think of a memoir, I envision a thick book just filled with pages upon pages of life events written by someone notable. (Think Bill Clinton’s My Life or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.) Since I haven’t turned forty yet, it seems premature to write a biographical memoir.

But an essay on a learned subject? Well! Now that is doable.

Yet, there are a multitude of learned subjects I would love to discuss in my memoir. I can’t help but feel limiting it to only one subject would be withholding crucial life lessons that could aid my readers. What if the below tidbits dramatically change your life? So, at risk of breaking all literary convention, I present you with The Underground Writer’s Memoir.

Baking powder and baking soda are two entirely different things. Ask my family. They learned this brutal truth several Sundays ago when I tried to make pancakes from scratch. The recipe called for baking powder. In my hasty, caffeine infused rush, I accidentally used baking soda. Twice. (Since I tossed the first batch after my husband and daughter said the pancakes tasted acidic … and resembled amoebas.)

Don’t be fooled by the song, “Send In The Clowns” by Judy Collins. You may think this is a peppy tune since the word “clown” is in the title. Trust me, it’s not peppy. There is no circus music, as one might expect. In fact, it just might be the most depressing song in the history of music. Whatever you do, DON’T put this song in the music queue for your child’s birthday. Unless you want to curl up into a ball and sob your eyes out, I recommend staying away from the song altogether.

Not everyone finds the surgery you had as fascinating as you do. When I was fourteen, my parents invited friends over for dinner. The man brought the video of his recent cataract surgery. He really thought we wanted to watch it. Out of kindness we did, but it was such an awkward moment: sitting in the living room, the taste of dessert still fresh on our tongues, as we watched this guy’s eyeball get stitched back together.

No one can prepare you for how insanely difficult it is to be a parent. I’m not referring to such incidents as your teenager having an attitude, or your eight your old who still refuses to eat anything green. I am talking about that deep, penetrating ache you feel when your child comes home from school and says they spent recess alone, again. Or that suffocating panic when the pediatrician calls with test results they find concerning. As Erma Bombeck so eloquently stated, “Having children is forever deciding to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

While these life lessons aren’t exactly groundbreaking or revelational, if they help a part of your day be a bit easier, then my memoir of lessons learned was an (unpublished) success .

The Last Dance

She was a Prima Ballerina during the 1950s – captivating audiences with her grace, precision and artistry. Now, some 50 years later, she walks stiffly on arthritic feet. Her knees are rigid from decades of dancing on stage. Even though ballet was brutal on her joints, her love for the dance is no less. She continues to give ballet lessons out of her home despite her age and diminished mobility.

Her ballet studio is in her family’s 1800 era mansion that was once the height of elegance. Now it shows signs of disrepair and neglect. The cost of maintaining the mansion is too much for an elderly woman on a fixed income. A sign reading “Hillard School of Dance” is leaning to the side, shrouded by overgrown hedges. Decades ago the street was known for its mansions, but now it is known for crime that occurs when night arrives.

There are no fancy recitals at Mrs. Hillard’s School Of Dance. Instead, Mrs. Hillard invites the parents to watch their children perform.  A cassette and record player provide music for the students. We wait patiently for Mrs. Hillard to rewind and fast forward the tapes. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, as are unruly younger siblings.

Class is about to start when Mrs. Hillard turns the front parlor lamp on. Five little girls clad in pink leotards step over the trash littering the sidewalk, and scurry up the front steps of the mansion. Their parents follow closely behind, more concerned with being late than the menacing looking thug approaching. We know Mrs. Hillard demands punctuality and, truth be told, we are all a little intimidated by her. In the winter, we know to close the front door quickly behind us lest warm air escapes. When it is raining out, we mustn’t step off the rugs because our wet shoes could make puddles.

Mrs. Hillard enters the studio and smiles at her ballet students. Her white hair is pulled back into a bun – a pink bow fastened above it. She wears a pink or light blue sweater with black pants. On her feet are ballet flats. Because of her stiff joints, Mrs. Hillard is unable to demonstrate the ballet steps for her students. To compensate, she has two older students show the girls the foot positions and how to pirouette and plie. After class, each little girl curtsies, says, “Thank you teacher,” and Mrs. Hillard hands them a dum dum lollipop. This excites my daughter the most.

“Mommy,” my daughter says on the way home from ballet one Saturday morning, “Ballet is getting boring. It’s not challenging enough. We never learn anything new.”

“I know it’s not very exciting,” I reasoned, “But Mrs. Hillard was a famous ballerina! She is teaching you very important steps.”

My daughter is silent, and I feel a pang of guilt. I would find the ballet class boring too, yet I don’t want her to take lessons anywhere else.

The usual response I hear when people learn we use Mrs. Hillard is, “She’s still alive? How old is she? I took ballet lessons from her when I was a kid and I’m approaching sixty!” I feel an obligation towards Mrs. Hillard. Leaving her class would feel disloyal – like we don’t acknowledge the talented lady she is. Secretly, I wish Mrs. Hillard would retire, releasing us without our having to stop lessons on our own.

After three years of ballet, my daughter qualifies for a level of gymnastics that will involve several hours a week of practice. This is our out from ballet. My daughter does not flinch when I tell her we are no longer continuing ballet lessons.  She seems relieved.

I delay calling Mrs. Hillard, mentally practicing how I will tell her we are leaving. Finally, I pick up the phone, take a deep breath, and dial her number.

“But she’s so talented!” Mrs. Hillard says after I explain my daughter won’t be returning in September.

I apologize profusely. I can hear Mrs. Hillard’s voice waiver ever so slightly.

“I just don’t know what I am going to do,” she continues, “Everyone is leaving. Now I only have four girls left.”

It suddenly dawns on me. Mrs. Hillard doesn’t realize why her classes have not only failed to grow, but are declining. Her love for ballet, her skills in teaching, have not aged. But her body has. Most parents want a younger teacher – one who can still dance herself. Understandably, they want an instructor who teaches more ballet moves than the handful our daughter’s class has learned the past three years. But Mrs. Hillard still sees herself as a New York City Ballet Prima Ballerina.

“I tell everyone about you,” I say.

This is true, and people’s response is never one of interest. It’s not only Mrs. Hillard’s age that is a deterrent, it’s also the location of her studio. People would rather avoid the area altogether.

I apologize more and Mrs. Hillard tells me how my daughter is built for ballet and to please reconsider. I feel torn, but my daughter isn’t interested in ballet anymore. I find I am more concerned about Mrs. Hillard’s feelings than my daughter’s and – as much as I admire and appreciate Mrs. Hillard’s dedication to ballet – I know I can not send my daughter out of guilt. We end the conversation, and I join the rest who have left Mrs. Hillard’s School of Dance.

Life’s Unanswered (Little) Questions

Will there ever be a cure for cancer? ___ and ___, why can’t you just get along? How can we stop climate change?

I could toss and turn all night trying to find the answers to these complex problems. But I don’t (mainly because I would never sleep). Instead, I focus on other – albeit, not as important – situations that drive me equally batty, but at least allow me to get some shuteye.

Why do some men spit while in public? Could someone – anyone –  please explain this gross phenomenon. Does a certain percentage of the male population produce more saliva than others? Are they delusional, and think they’re at the dentist? (Suddenly, they hear a voice say, “Rinse!” forcing them to cough up some phlegm and spew it on the sidewalk.)

Another baffling situation is how children are inconsistently cautious. My son and daughter pick through their meals as though they were health inspectors.

“Ewwww! What is that black spot?”

“Pepper. Now eat your dinner.”

“That’s not pepper! It looks like mold.”

“I don’t serve moldy food. It’s pepper. Eat your dinner.”

“Well, if you say so … wait. What’s this? This red dot?”

Yet they will gladly touch anything and everything in a public restroom. When outside, they poke their fingers into suspicious objects without so much of a hesitation. My son has shoved leaves in his mouth quicker than anything given to him for dinner. But food placed in front of them? Bring out the magnifying glass and Petri dishes, please.

What about this whole LOL business? Are people really Laughing Out Loud? If so, I would think everyone would be chuckling and jolly and smiling all of the time. Yet, all one has to do is spend 10.5 seconds in public to see this is certainly not the case. Why can’t there be a more truthful acronym? Such as SAL (Smiling A Little)?

The last issue I ponder is elderly drivers. I know this seems rather cut and dry: they are old and slow, thus they drive slowly. Yet, these slow driving septuagenarians and octogenarians will make the quickest, most reckless turns into oncoming traffic. Are they attempting to make up for lost time since it took them 30 minutes to drive half a mile? “Good heavens! Look at the time! I should hurry!” and she floors the gas pedal, twisting the steering wheel violently to the left.  Oncoming  cars slam on their breaks, blaring their horns as Edna inches painfully into a parking space.

I struggle to find answers to these conundrums as I prepare dinner for my children to dissect. I mull over them, jumping aside as a man spits out of the corner of his mouth, his saliva landing dangerously close to my feet. And I drum my fingers on my steering wheel, pondering these unanswered little questions, while I inch along behind an elderly man who is en route to his internist.

A Metal Pole And The First Day of School

On the first day of kindergarten, I walked into a metal pole. This is completely understandable, given the fact I was gawking at the big kids streaming into the building. There I was, watching the big kids, when all of a sudden: SMACK. My five year old blond head rammed into one of the poles that supported the school entrance’s overhang.

I stumbled backwards, dropping my lunchbox. Whether it was from the pain of the welt forming on my forehead or the sheer humiliation, I began to cry. This was also completely understandable. I still cry easily. Frantically, I looked around for my older brother who had received strict instructions from my mom to keep an eye on me.

When Vincent heard my wailing I am certain he groaned. (Remember, I cried easily.) Through watery eyes I saw him leave his group of cool third grade friends and make his way to where I was standing. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember his sheer embarrassment. Couldn’t I even walk into the entrance without incident?

Vincent led me to the nurse – walking ahead in hopes that no one would realize I was his little sister. Cool Vinnie couldn’t possibly have a whiny, blubbering little sister who walks into poles? Well, let me tell you – he did.

Upon arriving to the nurses’ office, Vincent turned and fled, leaving me alone with the school nurse who seemed large and old. And grumpy. She handed me an ice pack and told me to sit on the brown vinyl chair next to her desk. I heard morning announcements on the PA system. I watched stronger, braver kids who didn’t walk into metal poles pass by the office.

I wanted the nurse to call my mom so I could go home. I needed my mom to kiss my forehead and make this all better. The ice pack wasn’t doing anything, except freezing my skin so it felt like it was being pinched. Where was my mom? She was supposed to rescue me from these situations.

Eventually the school nurse remembered I was there, removed the ice pack and sent me to my kindergarten classroom. Miraculously I remembered the way my brother had led me, and I retraced my steps to the school’s entrance. At the end of the hall I could see my kindergarten classroom – the door open – waiting. I hurried to the class, my Smurf lunchbox thumping against my leg.

I burst through the door to find children sitting primly at their desks.

“You’re late,” my teacher said.

It was then I realized my mom couldn’t rescue me from all situations. I was going to have to handle these life events on my own. I found my desk, sat down, and turned my eyes to the teacher. But only after I started crying first.

A Murder or Strange Hair? You Decide.

I confess: I’m a hotel snob. This elitist mentality is not an attribute I admire in myself.  In fact, I envy those who can march into a Days Inn or Motel Six and not be phased by foreign curly hairs in the bottom of the bathtub, or a sticky TV remote. While certainly not life threatening, these aspects of budget hotels coerce me to spend significantly more money on accommodations I know will be pleasant.

Cleanliness isn’t the only quality I require when seeking temporary lodging. I also refuse to step foot in a Bed and Breakfast where murder has occurred. Call me odd, but shutting my eyes in the same room where someone was once hacked to death would not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling as I drift to sleep.

Thus, staying at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (located in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts) is out of the question; since not just one, but two people were murdered in their rooms. Picky of me, I know. Even the picture of the hatchet posted on the B&B’s website did nothing to encourage me to book an overnight stay.

If unfamiliar with Lizzie Borden, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of her life: She was the daughter of rich parents. One hot August day in 1892, Lizzie bludgeoned her mother and father to death with a hatchet while they were taking their afternoon naps. She was accused of murder and found not guilty. The End.

Or one would think. Weirdly enough, there continues to be such fascination with Lizzie Borden that her home – where the murders took place – is now a Bed and Breakfast. That’s right! For approximately $220 a night you can sleep in one of the rooms where hatchet bearing Lizzie and her parents once lived. For those of you who are not faint of heart, you can sleep in the very room where Mrs. Borden’s face was chopped into smithereens (though this will cost you an additional $50.)

Note that while children under five are “loved and welcomed,” they are not loved enough to spend the night. This is perplexing, given that children under five would have no idea where they were sleeping – thus being saved from any potential trauma inflicted on them by staying in a house where two bloody murders occurred. Also, children under five would not understand the annual re-enactment that takes place on the anniversary of the slayings. Children over five years of age, however, are welcome to spend the night and be traumatized by watching the annual re-enacted hackings of Mr. and Mrs. Borden.

The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast also hosts a gift shop. For overnight guests (remember, that includes children over five years of age) and daily visitors who partake in the 50 minute guided tour of the house, the gift shop is the perfect place to find disturbing gifts and Lizzie Borden memorabilia. Who wouldn’t want a Lizzie Borden Bobble Head that brandishes a hatchet? Or a coffee mug boasting a picture of the crime scene? Lastly, for all of you bakers, there are ax-shaped cookie cutters.

Am I wimpy? Perhaps. Snobbish? Sure. Though given the choice of staying in a budget hotel versus the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, I would go straight for the budget hotel. While it may not be the cleanest room with the most comfortable mattress, at least no one was clubbed to death with a hatchet in the adjacent room.

(Think I’m joking? Click HERE)

A Salutation To Strangers

To all the strangers I observed throughout the day.

Dear …

Person Driving The Car With The Columbia University Window Decal: Thank you for letting me know you were smart enough to get into an Ivy League school … and I was not. That felt great.

Creepy Guy Checking Out Girls From The Corner Of His Eye: You look like a deranged Ron Howard. You may think you’re discreet but you’re not. Us gals all know you’re watching us and it’s freaking us out.

Middle-Aged Man Zipping Around In The Audi Convertible: Driving an expensive German car does not change the fact that you’re middle aged and bald. Please drive responsibly.

Woman in Grocery Store: Thank you for offering to help me with my awkward grocery bags. It’s wonderful to know sweet people like you still exist.

Person Who Left The Plastic Shopping Basket In The Parking Lot: I know people tend to leave shopping carts in the parking lot, but baskets? You have taken laziness to a whole new level.

Person In Corvette: Your car may be fast and cost an impressive $60,000, but whenever I see Corvettes I will forever think “Barbie Car.” Blame Mattel.

3 People Standing Under Their Beach Umbrella: Is there a standing contest I am unaware of? In all my years of going to the beach I have never seen people stand under their umbrella and not sit. So far it’s been almost an hour. I wish you would sit, because now I can’t stop watching you. I should be enjoying the beautiful view of the ocean, but instead I keep waiting for you to sit down.

Woman In Bikini With Twin Baby Girls: You had a tummy tuck, didn’t you? C’mon. Admit it.  

Man Talking Loudly on Cellphone: Your white blood cell count is low? And the specialist you need to see has no appointments for three weeks?  You’re also planning a surprise party for your wife? Yet your boss won’t let you leave early that day? You bet he’s a jerk!  But listen, could you please lower your voice so I don’t hear about your bowel issues, or whatever you’re going to talk about next?

Man Hitchhiking Outside of The Department Of Mental Health Building: Dude, if you have any hope of getting a ride, you might want to scooch down a few feet so you’re standing in front of a different building .

Thank you for making my day a little more interesting.

Sincerely,

The Underground Writer

Best Foot Forward: Toe Wrestling

The Toe Wrestling Championship was recently aired on ESPN.  Apparently, ESPN has a loose definition of the term “sport” and does not discriminate what they choose to cover. The TWC (Toe Wrestling Championship) was won by Alan “Nasty” Nash. For all three of you who are toe wrestling enthusiasts, this victory was a no brainer. “Nasty” holds the world record for toe wrestling and has no plans on relinquishing that title. In fact, his nickname “Nasty” has to do with how merciless he is with his opponents and not – as I had thought – because toe wrestling is simply gross.

All this leads me to ponder: how does one enter into the peculiar niche of wrestling with one’s feet? I can’t help but picture a toe wrestler (let’s name him Terminator Toes) and his mother being interviewed…

Interviewer: So tell me, when did you first suspect your son had a talent with his toes?

Terminator Toes’ Mom: In utero. Seriously! I could literally feel him scraping the inside of my womb with his toes.

Interviewer: Good Heavens!

Terminator Toes’ Mom: It’s true. When he was a baby, there wasn’t anything he could not pick up with his toes: wet bars of soap, balls, ice cubes, the cat, our neighbor’s Pittbull…

Interviewer: Was this when you decided to enhance his talent?

Terminator Toes’ Mom: Oh no! I had no idea you could do anything with toes.

Terminator Toes: That’s when I stepped in. I knew at a young age my feet had a special gift. I knew my toe strength shouldn’t go to waste, so I started working on them. I made little barbells to fit my toes. I invented toe yoga to make my toes more supple.

Interviewer: Toe yoga?

Terminator Toes: Sure. Why should yoga exclude toes?

Interviewer:  Good point. How did you discover toe wrestling?

Terminator Toes: Toe wrestling is actually an ancient sport. It is said that Cleopatra and Julius Cesar were talented toe wrestlers. I’ve also heard that Bill and Hillary Clinton are fond of toe wrestling. Hillary usually wins. 

Interviewer: Bill and Hillary! So, you discovered toe wrestling how?

Terminator Toes: Oh! So one day when I was  seventeen … no … wait … eighteen, I was home exercising my toes and a friend stopped by. When he saw my toe barbells he said, ‘You too?’ Turns out he had toe strength too! I told him my toes were stronger and he disagreed. So we decided to test it out and see …

Interviewer: And the rest is history! Well! May the best toe win!

I am sure toe wrestling is just one of the many strange sports that are out there. I wonder what ESPN will cover next. Perhaps Elbow Tennis (where people use their elbows – and not rackets – to hit the ball) and Staring Contests.

Father’s Day Schmather’s Day

Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. In 2011, an estimated 75 million people dined away from home on that sacred Sunday. (If in doubt of these statistics, click here.) While moms were enjoying a meal they did not have to cook, they were also presented with the ever popular Mother’s Day card. Approximately 670 million dollars is spent each year on Mother’s Day cards (Thinking, “That can’t be right!”?  Click here.)

Yet, what about good old dad? I was recently contacted by a reader who wanted to know my thoughts on why there is such a measly selection for Father’s Day cards and a plethora of Mother’s Day cards. An Internet search on Father’s Day statistics resulted in very little information, other than the fact that most people eat barbecue on Father’s Day (which I assume dad grills).

My reader was on to something. Why is Father’s Day not as celebrated as Mother’s Day?

There are several explanations for why Mother’s Day is seemingly more important than Father’s Day:

Mama’s Boys: Typically Italian, these men never really cut the cord with their moms. Some mama’s boys remain living with their mom and never marry. Others do marry, but continue to keep Mama Mia their main lady. While perhaps emotionally stunted, Mama’s Boys aren’t dumb, so they know to buy their favorite lady a card and take her out for dinner on Mother’s Day. Mama’s Boys also tend to find their father a nuisance – even a potential competitor for their mama’s attention. Therefore, Father’s Day isn’t something high on the Mama’s Boys list.

If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy: Need I say more? There isn’t a saying, “If daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We seem to be able to deal with dad’s grumpiness, but not mom’s. Not honoring mom on Mother’s Day is the mistake of all mistakes, and we pay severely. Hallmark knows this.

Greeting Card Writers are Mostly Female: And irate ones, at that. The card company employees use Father’s Day as a time to blow off some steam. Husband forgot to take out the garbage again? Or spent a tad too much playing poker with the guys?  The greeting cards would read: “Father – You Taught Me Everything I Needed To Know. Too Bad My Husband Isn’t As Wonderful As You” or “Dad – You Are So Smart. I Should Have Listened To You And Never Married Him.” Obviously, these cards never make it to the shelves, resulting in a paltry Father’s Day card selection.

Women Live Longer Than Men: Can’t give a deceased dad a card, can you?

Single Parent Homes: According to the 2010 census, there were 11.7 million single parent homes. 9.9 of them were custodial moms (meaning – the mom lived home and the father did not) while only 1.8 million were custodial dads. This means 85% of homes were headed by single moms, and only 15% by dads. These are just raw numbers of course. A mother living with her children instead of the father does not imply the father is an absent one. It does imply, however, that the kids see mom more and they are aware of this when Mother’s Day rolls around. (Remember: when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.)

Statistically speaking, it seems that gnawing on barbecue while giving dad a cheesy card is how Father’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow. Since Hallmark isn’t taking advantage of this holiday, it’s up to us to do so.

The Cold, Hard Truth About Kindergarten

You can imagine my surprise and delight when Little Learners Preschool asked that I give the commencement speech at their graduation. (Granted, I wasn’t their first choice. Raffi was performing a concert elsewhere, and the clown from The Big Comfy Couch had a previous engagement.) I did not take this responsibility lightly. Having been a preschooler myself many years ago, I knew what awaited these children and I wanted to do everything I could to prepare them for the road ahead.

The graduation fell on an unseasonably cold, rainy day. Thankfully the ceremony was held indoors in a classroom that smelled of crayons and Play-Doh. After a lovely reception of apple juice and graham crackers, one of the teachers clapped her hands and asked that all students sit on the classroom rug.

“Criss cross applesauce!” she hollered. Eleven children scrambled to their spots and sat Indian-style. After Joey and Olivia stopped bickering over who got to sit where, I took my place on the child-sized chair a teacher had placed in front of the rug. With my knees hitting my chin, I cleared my throat. The audience was rapt. Aside for Theodore (who stuck his hand down the back of his pants), no one moved.

I began my speech Al Gore style:

“My fellow preschoolers. We are gathered here today to recognize a momentous occasion. These past ten months, you have faced many challenges and have gloriously overcome them. You share better. You now color in-between the lines. You deftly constructed Christmas ornaments out of pipe cleaners and Popsicle sticks. Some of you had pink-eye, strep throat or colds, yet you returned once you were symptom free for twenty-four hours.”

I paused to let Liliana – who was suddenly struck with an allergy attack -stop sneezing before I proceeded.

“You have learned the letters of the alphabet and how to tie shoelaces. You know the days of the week, and the seasons of the month. You should be commended for your efforts and accomplishments.”

There was noise. I looked up from my speech to find Matthew whispering to Peter, “What is she talking about?” Matthew looked over at me and I raised my eyebrows. He clamped his mouth shut and I continued.

“Yet, you have only just begun. Kindergarten, my little friends, is no joke. It is there you will be expected to learn how to read. You will even have tests. What are tests? They are a set of questions where you are supposed to know the answer. If you don’t know the answer you receive a bad grade, which is like a punishment.”

Now I had their attention. “Punishment?” Peter said, clearly worried. (“Shhhh!” Liliana shushed.)

“You will be expected to write your name – and not in all caps.”

I wasn’t exactly sure about that, but I still forged ahead.

“Do not be deluded. Kindergarten is the start of real life! Just as life isn’t fair – neither is the big K. The kid you sit next to may not invite you to their birthday party, but they invite everyone else. Your mom might pack you gross snacks like raisins while your friend has yummy snacks like popcorn or brownies – but your friend refuses to share these delectable snacks with you. You may lose your blue crayon, only to discover that the kid behind you stole it. Girls, you may have to sit next to a boy with cooties. Boys, you may have to sit next to a girl who never stops talking. Then she claims you never listen to her.”

Pausing briefly, I glanced at the graduates. They sat wide-eyed and open mouthed. (Except for Nina who was now sucking her thumb – her index finger curled protectively over her nose.)

“I have faith in your ability to handle these challenges! You know the names of colors and have braved an apple picking field trip. These are vital life skills that will help you walk into that kindergarten classroom. So go forth, my graduates, and seize the day! (Just, whatever you do, DON’T eat the spaghetti and meatballs in the cafeteria. School meatballs taste like cat food.)”

Silence. I looked at the teachers who were both frowning. Jacob began to cry. Olivia slowly raised her hand and asked if she could use the bathroom.

“Of course, Olivia. Go ahead,” The teacher turned to me, “Um…thank you Underground Writer. That was … interesting.”

I was presented with a honorary preschool graduation diploma that was framed in dried ziti noodles and fruit loops. The teachers thanked me for visiting and escorted me to the door. When I turned to ask if I could return and give the Little Learners Commencement Speech of 2014, I found they had locked the door behind me.