Merry Peeksmas!

I’m a first born. Responsible. But sneaky. My brain likes things that are precise, exact, perfect. Or close to it.

Being in charge of younger siblings while my parents worked, we had a lot of free time on our hands without someone constantly watching us. By the time I was in high school, I met the qualifications-whatever those were-to make sure everyone was looked after for a few hours after school and chunks of time on weekends while one parent made their way home and the other left for work.

One December, I decided to rearrange gifts so they looked like what my sister and I liked to call “commercial” worthy-what you’d see on TV. Our packages didn’t have large puffy fabric bows, but foil bows you got in a bag of twenty for a dollar. Our imaginations filled the void. It was important for us count them. How dare anyone have more than me. Size mattered too. If one of us had a larger gift, what could it be?

At my age though, I figured out the size of the gift didn’t equate the amount of money spent on it. I also had not quite learned that gifts weren’t the real reason for the season. Gifts were THE reason for the season and I wanted to know what I had coming. Periodically, we’d all choose a gift, give it a shake, and take turns guessing what was tucked inside.

This year, I had gifts that didn’t make much sound. Too old for boxes with a heaviness that slid from one end to the other-some sort of toy. I knew who had Barbies, skinny boxes with skinny perfectly-figured blonds on tiptoes inside. I outgrew those, but still helped French braiding their hair when no one was looking. And narrating their dates with Ken because the younger ones just didn’t understand how it really worked. I started watching Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless during school breaks, so I knew a thing or two. Those soundless packages only meant what every teen girl wanted: clothes.

But which clothes? Jordache jeans? A Guess? shirt or sweater? What had I drooled over at the mall recently? It could be anything. But I need to know which one in particular. While the younger ones played, I nonchalantly took a package after having made a picture-perfect TV commercial worthy set-up. No adults were home. I was the next “adult” in line. Fourteen wasn’t too far from eighteen. The younger ones played or watched TV. With three other siblings in a small house, the bathroom was the only place for privacy.

I took a beautifully wrapped package, from my grandma, and headed off to do my business. I turned the fan on so everyone would know it would be while before I was done. I took the package and turned it over and over wondering where it was from. The wrapping was fancy, not the K-Mart paper that wrapped the other gifts. My uncle was behind this one. They asked for wrapping from the store that sold it or he spent a little too much on wrapping paper without my grandma knowing it. Either way, this was the one that intrigued me most.

I turned the box over and found the tape at the bottom. I started picking at it with my fingernail, carefully, like picking at a Band-Aid that’s stuck on too tight. Surprisingly, the tape easily peeled away from the paper without leaving a mark. I sucked in my breath. No on had banged on the door yet. Breathe…I flipped it to the other end to try the other side. The tape easily peeled off again.

Stuck, I had to decide what to do next. If I kept unwrapping the box, would I be able to put it back without anyone suspecting it had been opened? What if I couldn’t get it back the way I found it? You know how you open a box and the contents just don’t fit the way they were packaged? What would happen then? Do I stop here and wait a few days like I’m supposed to?

Supposed to. I was tired of that. I usually do what I’m supposed to do. I’m in theater, I can act like I’m surprised even if I know what’s in the box. No one will ever know.

I kept going.

I completely unwrapped the box, being careful to leave the tape attached. I found a plain white shirt box. We usually used old boxes from around the house to wrap gifts. This one came from not Wal-Mart or K-Mart. As I lifted the top, I discovered more tape. I needed to hurry because someone would need to use the bathroom soon. My heart pounded when I accidentally ripped part of the box. Dang! The tape stuck to the box more than it did to the paper. I’m the only one who would see the box during the unwrapping chaos of Christmas morning, so I continued.

After removing the lid, I discovered neat, white tissue paper gently enclosing the gift, adhered with a round gold seal. Whoa! Super fancy. I knew that would tear, so I lifted everything out and slipped out the gift from one end. I drew in a breath. A pink collarless, button down shirt with mid-length sleeves and a pocket on the left side seemed to smile at me. It even smelled fancy. I could wear it with…everything! I loved it! I silently shouted, jumped for joy, and imagined myself squishing my grandma in thanksgiving. No one was around to relish my joy, but a party of one was enough for me.

With the fan still going, I didn’t have much time. I now faced the task of reversing my actions: folding the shirt where it creased, slipping it back into the tissue, placing it in the box, re-taping the lid, and re-wrapping the gift. It went much more quickly this time, I didn’t have a choice. I calmed myself down, flushed the toilet and washed my hands, all the while grinning as I glanced at the box. I got a sneak peek at my gift. With a little more time, I could open them all, but not today.

I walked back to the living room with the gift behind my back. I side-stepped toward the tree and dropped it back into the pile. No one noticed. I went back to rearranging them again. I picked up one of the skinny boxes, my youngest sister’s name on it. I called her over. “Want to know what you got for Christmas?”

Are You There, Judy? It’s Me, Ally-Again

Hey, Judy. What happened when Margaret grew up and became a mom? Did she become a mom? And what happened when she birthed her teen into adulthood? I mean, sheesh, the hormones…they’re worse than when I was 13. Or pregnant. And the nesting! It’s still happening. Why? Is this normal? With social media, we get tons of parenting advice until the kids are about nine or ten. Then it stops. We have to figure it out and only when we mention something happened does anyone ever say, “Oh, that, yeah, it’s normal, but wait until…”

Maybe we ignore the advice because we don’t get it when we need it. Either too early or too late, but when we’re in the middle of everything, we try to claw our way through. This birthing a teen into adulthood emotionally rips you up. Random tears on a run. Random tears when an old picture pops up on the screen. Random tears in line at the grocery store when my eye lands on a gummy SpongeBob Krabby Patty I’d buy as a treat for a tantrum free grocery trip years ago. Hollering sessions griping about homework, chores, junk food, being online for too long, you name it…and it’s me doing the hollering. And then random tears second guessing that meeting (or those meetings) with the teacher when the kid was in sixth grade. Why didn’t I say something different? I should’ve done this instead.

Did Margaret spend too much time at work in those earlier years or was she a stay at home mom? Her kids turned out okay, didn’t they? Did her mind linger over the what ifs and what can be? A ton of time passes between the first birth and the second birth. They both hurt though, but I don’t know which one hurts more. I think I was better prepared for the first. The second one creeps up on you. I thought I was ready. Here we go anyway. We’ll figure it out. It’ll be official tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Senior Skip Day

April 20, 2021

My sister’s impromptu and welcome visit this weekend prompted a backyard hangout around the fire pit. Defaulting to high school memories, we discussed skipping school. Rule follower here, mostly. Classic first-born people pleaser characteristics. I wore my responsibility with honor, like a Hogwarts prefect. Except that I grew up in a small town where everyone can easily find out your business.

The first time I ever skipped school was the spring semester of my senior year. I think it was the first time I was absent since my bout with chicken pox when I was in kindergarten. Starting with first grade, I was in the running for the Lifetime (Sort of) Achievement Award for perfect attendance, the most embarrassing award I received at the end of every year. After that first absence, I went to school sick. No one sent me home because I learned to deal with discomfort. Boxes of Luden’s cherry cough drops were staples in my backpack. Halls eventually took over and Chloraspetic throat spray tamed my raw sore throats during winter months.

When most cool kids planned to skip school, they took off out of town. There wasn’t anything to do, so unless there was a plan to hide out in someone’s home and run the risk of being seen driving around during the school day, most kids drove an hour to the nearest big “city.” We heard about mall adventures, proved with matching Guess t-shirts or sunglasses or earrings. First, it must have been nice to have a car to leave town. Followed by knowing how to get to the mall without an adult. And having money to shop for matching Guess shirts.

One day, when my mom asked if I wanted to go shopping, I wasn’t sure what she meant. We usually ran errands on weekends. It’s mid-week. She said we’d go shopping. I didn’t think much of it until she added the part about missing school. Being a responsible mini-adult, I asked about missing class, making up class work, and returning to school. She assured me she’d write a note to excuse the absence.

We took off on our excursion with Uncle Danny tagging along. Uncle Danny was the best shopping partner. He still is. I wasn’t with friends, but we wound up at the mall. We hit the mega-clearance aisles and I wound up with two prom dresses. A bit guilty about getting two, my mom mentioned the other one could be saved for my sister the following year. They were such a good deal, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to save major cash on another prom dress.

We ate out at a real restaurant. Took our time. Ran a few errands and headed back home by late afternoon.

The following morning, Mom wrote a note. I opened it and re-read it several times before I made my way to the office. There it was, her note, explaining that I was absent from school because I had a cold. I was nervous turning it in because I clearly had no signs of a cold. I mean, when I did have a cold, I reeked of cherry cough drops. I gave it to the secretary. My stomach churned. They took my note and I lingered as if waiting to be reprimanded. Surely they could see my lie. Or rather, my mom’s little made up story of a cold-less cold.

“Okay, get to class.”

That was it? I went back to class. It was so, easy. And I only had a few months left to do it again. Only I didn’t do it again.

I don’t remember having my classwork pile up on me. I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out my absence. I picked up where I left off. I couldn’t even skip school, the right way, but I did it. And it was one of my favorite days. My induction into adulthood.

9 Weeks, 2 Days

SOLSC Day 22

My oldest graduates high school on May 26th. His high school hosted a drive through Countdown to Graduation this evening. With everything being cancelled this year, parents are working on ways to creatively celebrate a full pandemic senior year. I held my composure and didn’t say much. The first stop along the route in front of the school was a senior yard sign. Then a goodie bag. Followed by a senior t-shirt, topped with a cupcake. It didn’t hit me until today. I’m mourning the busy-ness and frenetic planning of a Mom of a Senior while he mourns the “loss” of a typical senior year. I know we’re not alone and there are others going through so much worse, but it still stings.

“Not too bad. As long as there’s food, it’s worth it.” He chomps the cupcake in two bites.