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Archive for October, 2014

I sent two boys to the Homecoming dance this last Saturday. For Oldest Son, it was his third year going and for Middle Son, it was his first. Of course, they went with to different groups, so picture-taking beforehand was a bit sticky. I did make it to both in time to take tons of pictures, but the contrast between the two groups was so intriguing that I wanted to try and describe it.

Oldest Son’s group has been together for years. It’s a humongous group. They eat and move as a unit, moving from class, to band, to theatre seamlessly, with perpetual, fluid, motion. They text and visit constantly, young men and young ladies both, sharing world views, philosophies, and countless doughnut runs. I admire them. There is a tight-knit core group with others who pop in and out along the way. Unable to get out of work most times, I watch from a distance, occasionally chauffeuring to the movies or other outings, too awkward and stilted to really join in with them, like some of the other moms do. But, I ardently admire their youth, their optimism, their opportunities that are now arising as they prepare to leave for college next August. Most of them are spreading their wings for far-off places, but I believe that they will keep in touch for a long time. I hope they do. They’re wonderful kids with good grades and good families. These are things that I’ve observed in the years that I’ve stood in the background, loving to watch them as they grow and change.

They looked stunning, the girls in a variety of dresses from long and formal to short an cute. Oldest Son’s date wore a dress that I could have possibly chose, although her shoes, adorable on her, would have killed me. The hair was spectacular: curls, up dos, and sparkly-things ran rampant. The boys were handsome in their suits and ties, some all cleaned up from the muddy cross-country meet that morning and ready to go out on the town. This is the most organized, self-sufficient, group I have ever seen, although my best friend from high school, Jenny, would have given them a run for their money.

Middle Son’s group at Homecoming was a mix of old and new friends. While Oldest Son’s group has always been a close, co-ed, group, Middle Son has always run with the boys. He didn’t go to Homecoming last year and only made the decision to ask a friend of his a couple of weeks before the dance. She was already going with a group of girls and a dress had already been purchased, so no fashion worries there. That was my first concern when he told me that he was going to ask her. “Girls need time!” I protested, answered by an eye roll. We went suit shopping six days before the dance, since he hadn’t worn one in, well, ever. It all worked out fine, though, especially since his date’s parents made the first move and we helped them get organized. Flowers were ordered, her father drove them to all of their stops that night, and a few sets of parents had dinner at the same place as the group, a local casual diner in town. The group of six seemed to get on well together at their separate table, talking, laughing, and texting in their fancy party clothes, having fun, but in a different way than the senior group. While they got along in a way that exuded old familiarity, this group was testing it out. It was so interesting to see the differences. We adults got along well, too. We had known one of the couples since Middle Son was in preschool and Marty knew one of the other mothers from when they were in high school together. It was really a pleasant evening and I’m glad I forced my introverted self to do it. The kids went on to the dance and we took Youngest Son home to revel in being the only child for the night.

That night was bittersweet and emotional. My boys are growing up and it showed. One is gone in a matter of months, the other in less than three years. My babies that I used to delight in scooping up and cuddling have turned into strong young men in suits who are thisclose to embarking on their on life journeys without Marty and me. I hate this part and I love this part. I love their independence and I hate their independence. I love them. And their friends.

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Tattoos have come a long way through history. They’ve been meaningful for different cultures and religions in all different parts of the world since, well, since there have been people. They’ve been used for magical purposes, social status, marks of achievement, and as a coming of age. They have been found on mummies, statues, and drawings of both men and women across the globe. The famous Captain Cook (you know, the one for whom the islands are named) was the first Englishman to introduce “modern” Europe to tattooing around 1771, not only bringing a tattooed man back to England, but his one of his own men even got one while in the Pacific. It progressed from there, with everyone from sailors to the gentry permanently etching symbols into their skin. Several members of England’s Royal Family through the years and even Winston Churchill’s mother were all tattooed. (She had a snake tattooed around her wrist, by the way. Mrs. Churchill.) Not long ago, getting ink was seen as low-class or as a souvenir of being in the military, but in today’s world, the tattoo knows no boundaries. Rich, poor, famous, infamous, and ordinary people are likely to sport a tattoo. Or two. Or more.

I have three right now. The first one I got was a rose on my right hip. My friends, Jack and Brian, took me to the tattoo parlor the spring after my eighteenth birthday and held my hand as the buzzing commenced. At that time, I was still convinced of a career in the theatre and didn’t want to get a tattoo in a place that was easily visible. Getting the tattoo itself wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. I carefully followed the directions to keep it coated in Neosporin until it healed and to not wear tight clothes. I was so proud of myself and it wasn’t long before I was itching to get another. There’s something about getting one that leads a person to want more and more. Thank God I ran out of money or I may have sleeves by now.

For my second tattoo, I went by myself to a tattoo booth located in a trade center. I had been eyeing a few crosses for a while and finally decided to get one on my other hip. Again, not really painful. I can best describe it as annoying. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s bearable. Let’s put it that way. Pain, real pain, has a whole new definition after giving birth to three children and tattoos have gone way down the scale.

My third one was kind of a weird thing. I was in beauty school ( I did not drop out. Sorry, theatre reference.) and one of my friends was learning to not only become a cosmetologist, but a tattoo artist. I let him design one for me to go on my thigh and his mentor put it on. I liked it at first, but as the years have gone by, it doesn’t look as professional to me as I would like. Eventually, I’m going to have that on turned into something else, but, again, it’s not something that would be visible on a daily basis and it’s not like I got someone’s name tattooed on me. No cause for embarrassment there.

I’m getting my first new tattoo in twenty years this Tuesday. I waited a while for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, they’re not cheap. Even for something very small, you’re looking at a $50.00 minimum in most places. With three small children and tons of bills, tattoos were a luxury that we couldn’t afford. The other major reason was that I just didn’t know what I wanted. If I’m going to permanently have a piece of art etched onto me, I want it to mean something. And then, a few months ago, I knew what I wanted.

My cousin recently got a couple of tattoos, one of which was a line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s from Act III Scene II and reads, “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” The character, Helena, is speaking about her sister, Hermia, not in an altogether flattering way, but it fits what I have come to believe about myself. I’ve had a lot of crap in my life. Who hasn’t, right? In therapy, I’m assigned to think of good qualities about myself. As I mulled it over, it occurred to me that no matter what has come my way, I fought through the despair of the situation and it made me a stronger person. This line, although I’ve seen it many times in Shakespeare, really hit home as something that I want to carry with me. The twist is that since I don’t want to (entirely) copy my cousin, I’m going to have it done in Italian. My grandpa was from Sicily and when I decided to take Italian in college, it made him happy. I’m still learning Italian to this day and while I’ve got a decent grip on it, I still ran the line through several different translators to get the best translation. It reads: “Anche se lei essere ma poco, lei e feroce”. That phrase will be a permanent part of my left hip as of Tuesday night.

A lot of people are cool with the idea, but a lot question the practice. They don’t know why someone would do something so permanent to their body. I look at it as an individual expression of one’s self. Granted, there are people who get stupid tattoos. Really freaking stupid tattoos that were not thought out well at all. Hey, their bodies belong to them, no matter how many names or misspelled words are written. But, on the flip side, there are others who do put a lot into it and whose tats mean something. Cancer survivors, abuse survivors, names of loved ones who have passed, ancient symbols that one identifies with, all are as unique as the people who sit through each session. There are even some who say that Christians shouldn’t get tattooed, because of a verse in Leviticus. One verse in the whole Bible, located in the same book that says we can’t eat pork. If fundamentalists want  to follow the Bible word for word, they should get rid of the bacon in their freezers in addition to not getting tattoos. One can’t pick and choose. That verse is pretty clear that the marks being referenced were for pagan religions, not tattoos in general. Besides, in the New Testament, Jesus clearly said that the old laws were finished, now that he had arrived.  Many Christians I know, besides myself, have tattoos and feel very spiritual about them, seeing as a way to show their devotion. That’s the whole reason I got a cross. It means something to me.

Anyhow, even though it wasn’t ever a big deal before, I am a little nervous. My sister/cousin (I really have to blog that story sometime soon.) will be with me. I don’t get to see her nearly as often as I’d like, so this will be fun and a chance to spend some time together. No pictures will be posted, however; I’m not that kind of girl on Facebook. But it will be there. I’ll know it and that’s all that matters

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I took Oldest Child to a college open house today, an event made more fun because it’s the college where I went my first year out of high school, Wayne State University. Wayne State is located in downtown Detroit and is in the middle of the New Center area, which encompasses the theatre and museum district. made up of buildings both old and new. Old Main, the oldest surviving building with it’s Hogwarts-like hallways, is where I spent some of my happiest hours taking theatre classes while the Student Center, the hub of student life, is currently getting a well-deserved makeover. It’s a wonderfully spread-out campus full of people, skyline, and general busyness that accompanies a big city. I absolutely loved it when I was there and really wish I hadn’t screwed it up, but I don’t want this to be about me today. This is about the journey that he is taking and where he’ll be a year from now.

Wayne State is one of the colleges that Oldest Child is seriously considering. He loves that it’s in an urban area and that the program he’s applying to has a heavy concentration on community service and social programs. He wants to give back to the community, social justice being a special interest of his. Detroit is a good place to exercise that. We don’t go downtown often. The cost of parking is a deterrent and I don’t like big events like sporting events or concerts, but we have been to the DIA, the Renaissance Cen, and other odd occasions, not to mention my penchant for attracting jury duty notices. Still, he feels a pull toward a big city, like me. We went on the official tour last spring. A bouncy little coed took us all around campus, including the new dorms. Wayne has transformed from a commuter college into a residential one and judging from their enrollment numbers, it’s been a successful transition. As I said, he is considering other places, too, but Wayne seems to be a heavy contender.

As we walked around, I had some deja vu moments that were quite unexpected and lovely. Is it possible to get excited about the card machine that used to be in the parking garage more than twenty years ago, or the small stone stairway down to the Studio Theatre? It was all new to him, though, and I enjoyed seeing it through his eyes. On the spring tour, I could see his mind putting himself on campus, in the dorm that we toured and the buildings we passed through. I could see him getting excited about the opportunities open to him and, yes, the prospect of being on his own, free from parental rule

A senior in high school is a wonderful thing, if one is academically sound and well-rounded. Oldest Child is both of those and so we expect some good things to open up. We want that for him, this chance to learn at a respected college and to fly free. His brothers just want his room. Unlike me, he put his nose to the grindstone in high school. He got a B+ once and was teased mercilessly. It never happened again. The cool part is that we never pushed him to this, only to do his best. He has always known what he wants to do in life and he knows that the way to get there is to work hard. This apparently does not extend to putting his laundry away or taking his junk off of the living room chair, but in school, he’s a rock star. He’s had this drive since he was small and it’s now beginning to reward him.

I know that most parents are proud of their kids. Marty and I are no exception. Like all parents, we want better for our children than what we had, but at the same time, we want them to learn how to succeed on their own, without coddling him or fighting his battles. We have never bailed him out of anything, but tried to let his consequences teach him the lesson. Oldest Child is doing a good job of handling things so far, researching not only colleges and their programs, but financial aid packages and scholarships.

Now I know that college is a different world. I’ll begin preparing him for that this year. He’ll begin doing his own laundry and keeping his room neater, as he will most likely have a roommate, and he already pays for his extras himself with his part-time job. Some kids, bright kids, fall instead of fly during that first year, giving in to the temptations that will surround them in a residential hall. I hope he doesn’t fall. I hope that we’ve given him enough of a good foundation from which he can make good choices, but ultimately that’s just it: they’re his choices now. Eighteen is just around the corner and we won’t have a say anymore. He will be able to work any job he wants, live wherever he wants, smoke cigarettes (please, God, no), get a tattoo, even get married. (Again, please, God, no.) He’ll be a, gulp, adult in the eyes of the law and we’ll just be there for emotional support.

It doesn’t seem possible. When the nurse hands that squalling baby to you in the delivery room, she doesn’t tell you how fast it will go by, how fast he’ll turn from helpless, snuggly, baby to defiant toddler to independent student to defiant teenager and then they walk away. Not forever, I know he’ll be back no matter where he goes, but this will be his time to grow and to shine, to become the person he was meant to be. He’ll never be ours again. From college on, it will be different.

Sometimes, I want that little boy back. You know, the one who squealed with excitement over making friends with a bug on the sidewalk or danced around the living room in his kilt and tam from Scotland. Tight hugs and sticky, but wonderful, kisses, boo boos, and bedtime stories are replaced by a young man with stubble on his chin and a deep voice whose shoes are bigger than yours. The hugs are still wonderful, but those chubby arms have grown into muscular ones.

But then, there’s that light in his eyes that shines as he explores his potential new home. That light that tells you that even though the two of you may still fight over keeping his phone and ipod downstairs at night (a family rule), he’s almost ready to fly, to begin his own life. And somehow, even though you still don’t want to let him go, you’re okay with that.

For him, you have to be.

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Autumn is here!!! I’m so excited! Temps are cooler, leaves are changing, the bugs are (slowly) dying. We can light fires in the fireplace, go to the apple orchard, even though we don’t go very often, and celebrate Oktoberfest over at the neighbors’ house. Fall is my favorite season of the year. Winter is Michigan is beautiful, but evilly cold and sloppy. I loathe the heat and humidity of summer. Spring is nice, although too short as we tend to jump right from winter to summer here, but autumn has all of the feels that I adore. It’s a welcome respite after sweating since the middle of May, about a week after it stops snowing. No kidding: we had the air conditioning on less than a week after turning the heat off this year, 50 degrees to 95 degrees in a couple of days. Anything over 82 makes me want to melt, so these last couple weeks of beautiful weather has been a balm for the soul. The 75% cool weather British Isles/Northern European mutt part of me trumps the 25% hot weather Sicilian part every time.

Some of my favorite memories of fall were made when I was working for Greenfield Village. For those who are not Michiganders, Greenfield Village is an 80-acre complex that is a part of The Henry Ford, an institution founded by Henry Ford in 1929, an outdoor museum consisting of many buildings, most original, some not, that are important to American history. I worked there for almost eleven years, mostly in the Village, and loved every bit of it. It’s a serious thrill to be around buildings and objects that have seen so much history. I worked in the museum a bit, not as exciting to me, but the majority of my time was spent in the Village.

I worked on Firestone Farm for three years. Firestone Farm is the farmhouse and barn where the tire mogul, Harvey Firestone, was born and raised in Columbiana County, Ohio. It was moved to Greenfield Village, piece by piece, in the 1980s and has since functioned as a working farm from the 1880s. There, I learned to cook on a coal-burning stove, to care for farm animals, and to run a house with no running water, which comes in handy when the kitchen sink breaks. We sheared sheep, butchered pigs, washed dishes by hand, and grew crops on nine acres. They still do. Every season had its chores and jobs, but autumn was the best! It was harvest time, when all of the hard work over the summer was finally coming to an end. The canning was done, no more weeding, and the little kitchen was snug and cozy.

Fall mornings on the farm were my favorite. The walk from the building where we punched in at the time clock to the farmhouse served as a portal through time. With our shawls pulled tight against the chill and bonnets properly on, the employee parking lot gave way to a small pond at Ford Motor Company and then the back barnyard where, if it had been a nice night, the horses were waiting outside for us, particularly my favorite, Mouse. They knew that they were about to get fed so they would follow us along the last bit of the road, snorting, their breath visible in the frosty autumn air as we greeted them. The sun would be just rising when we got there, bathing the house, barn, and frosty fields in a rosy glow. We would crunch down the gravel path, house people and barn people separating and going their ways. Although we knew that very soon, our little world would be filled with visitors, it was, for the moment, our own private farm and we settled into our roles. Outside, animals were fed, the barn was cleaned, cows milked, water barrels filled. Inside the house, the stove and fireplace were cleaned and lit, water was pumped for cooking, dishes, and washing (nothing modern there), cooking started, and coffee beans ground. When the morning chores were done, just before opening, there would be coffee and cheese toast for all in the still-chilly-but-warming-up kitchen. Cheese toast, made of homemade bread, butter, and large slices of muenster or cheddar, toasted in the oven of a coal stove, I’m convinced, is food of the gods. I’ve tried to replicate it at home in the oven and toaster oven, but it is never the same. Those quiet, still, moments are some of my best memories.

Another favorite part of the season was The Headless Horseman, a magical evening program. Back before the Village streets were repaved with curbs, some of us farm folk would act out the story of poor Ichabod Crane and his fateful meeting with the headless Hessian soldier, as written by Washington Irving. We would pile visitors in the horse-drawn wagon and as they traveled through the village, a black-caped storyteller (my Marty) would tell them the tale as it came to life in front of their eyes with real characters and horses. They saw lanky Ichabod, plump-as-a-partridge Katrina Van Tassel, Bram Bones, and other partygoers dancing at the Van Tassel house, normally the Giddings House during the day. The wagon then went where normal visitors never went during the day, into the woods in back of the Village. They watched Ichabod ride away from the party on his borrowed horse, Gunpowder, and followed him through the woods where he met the infamous Headless Horseman, who wore a fabulous costume designed by our period clothing department. The Horseman rode one of our big, black, Percheron horses and would burst out of the woods with an explosion of fire. The entrance was so impressive it terrified our horse that originally played Gunpowder and we had to use a different one. The visitors witnessed the chase through the woods as the wagon raced after them, the woods illuminated by fire barrels, Marty’s voice rising with the action. The chase continued back through the Village, past the Susquehanna Plantation House where the Headless Horseman picked up a flaming pumpkin, just like in the story. They would race on horseback all the way to the covered bridge where, as the story goes, the horseman’s power ended, but by the time the wagon slowed down to approach the bridge, there were only the remains of a smashed pumpkin and Ichabod’s tricorn hat. The schoolmaster was never seen again, at least, not until the next show. After the wagon had crossed through the fog-filled bridge, they would hear the thundering hooves of the giant horse on the wooden planks and would turn to see one last glimpse of the horseman, sword held high, still searching for a head.

That program was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. The horses enjoyed it, too. They would be pacing, raring to go before each performance. We did that program for three seasons and I was able to play Katrina, Headless, and work behind the scenes with lights and props. Unfortunately, the new roads meant that we couldn’t race horses around in the dark anymore, but it was something that we put our hearts and souls into. There’s nothing quite like racing a horse around the Village at night, pounding up a hill and through a bridge through the darkness, praying to God that they can see better than you can. At the end of it all, we would be exhausted, but exhilarated, ready for the next year. They have a very cool Headless Horseman for the Halloween Walk now, but it’s not the same.

My time there was full of moments like that, too many to list here, but every autumn when I can feel the change in the air, my mind returns to those days. I know that I can never go back; the combination of people and circumstances could never be duplicated, but the memories are rich and I treasure them. Oldest child works there now, not on a particular site, but as a seasonal presenter. He gets to work the Halloween Walk this year and I hope he makes as many wonderful memories as I did. I’m a bit sad, though, that he won’t experience what I did. That being said, this seems like a good day to go and wander the Village to relive some memories.

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