Monthly Archives

March 2017

Some Kinda Superwoman

Some kinda Superwoman: Kirsten

March 31, 2017

Almost 15 years have passed, but I can still call back the moment I held my first niece, all big-eyed and unassuming. It was the first time I felt comfortable holding a baby. Like, my brain and my body just knew she belonged to me in some small but important way. I remember thinking our family would never be the same, which turned out to be true. Our dynamic shifted on that day. My parents became grandparents, I became an aunt, my brother an uncle and so on. But moreso, the light that had, to that point, shined down on me and my siblings dimmed on our faces on that rainy August day and illuminated this fresh little soul, instead. We had a new axis. And I didn’t care one bit, which is rare for a baby-of-the-family type like myself. I was happy to step aside and let this tiny love nugget soak up all the attention that she so deserved and earned by being offensively adorable and blowing the most endearing spit bubbles.

A few years later, my sister told me she was pregnant again, and just after Christmas, she gave me my second niece. Then a few years later, my third niece. Then we were pregnant together and neither of us found out what we were having, and wouldn’t you know, spring brought a pair of chicks; one for each of us. Then, she got pregnant about four years after that and it was, you guessed it, another girl. At this point, it’s starting to get crazy, right? Well, unbeknownst to any of us, including my sister, she wasn’t quite done. In a surprise turn of events, this past fall Kirsten welcomed her sixth little bambina.

They’re beautiful, each of them. My sister’s husband is Mexican and Kirsten is tall, pale and blonde, so it’s a fun little genetics recipe to play with. Some are blessed with the beautiful olive tone and big brown eyes that will just straight up level you, Disney princess style, and others get to be curly towheads with our family’s signature blinding white complexion. The teams currently stand at Brownies: 2, Blondies: 3, TBD/Mashup: 1.

Sometimes I forget just how sensational my sister’s harem is. And then I have a moment of drowning in my own personal kiddie pool (by comparison) of estrogen. Three girls is a lot of emotion, I tell people. We’re never short on tears, drama or clogged toilets. And then I think about doubling down. I think about that feeling when you finish a half marathon and no way, ever, would you consider turning around and doing it again. But that’s my sister’s life. When I tap out and take my melatonin at 9, whipped and tattered from 13.1 miles complete, my sister is a short highway drive away, winding down from a full 26.2. She is a hardcore, badass marathon mama.

It earns her a bit of grace, I’d say. But she’s built for it. She’s my opposite in most every way. She knows when to just roll around in the sea of torn wrapping paper rather than frantically scoop it up and risk missing the moment. And that, I’d say, makes all the difference. Dancing rather than disinfecting. Laughing rather than laundry. It can all wait, and it will. I mean, the mess is multiplying by six at her house as we speak. But she is the perfect woman, partnered with the perfect man, for bringing a big ole gaggle of gals up right.

The stories that come out of her house are gold, as you might imagine. Someone’s always drawing on someone else’s face with permanent marker or painting themselves from head to toe in Desitin cream. Once a mouse got in the toilet. Her oldest, Olivia, who was much younger at the time, unknowingly sat down to go potty and, upon discovering the rodent clawing and frantically swimming beneath her bottom, screamed, “I pooped a mouse! I pooped a mouse! Mommy, Daddy, I pooped a mouse!” She wouldn’t sit on the can for weeks after that. There are self-administered haircuts that will live on in infamy and scars from sister-on-sister war crimes. But all in all, it’s pretty organized chaos.

People always ask me how she does it, and the truth is, I honestly don’t really know. But like any good journalist, I’m always willing to go straight to the source for you guys. So, settle in for this lovely little testimony from one of my favorite tired, brutiful mothers, who happens to be my big sister.

SOME KINDA SUPERWOMAN: KIRSTEN
– Written by the woman herself

December 26, 2015. I’m brushing my teeth and watching the screen of a digital pregnancy test. I say I’ll never forget it, but does anyone ever really forget those moments? The screen showed a clock flashing, then suddenly a “YES +”. I froze. My heart began to race and I felt hot from the inside out. This was not part of the plan. This was not on the family calendar. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but the reality is that in that moment that was not what I wanted. Two thoughts ran through my mind: First, “What will people think?” and then, “What does this mean for my plans and my dreams?” I had no idea how this surprise would fit into our already crazy family.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me introduce myself.

I’m the manager of this circus. I’m the one who attempts to hold this show together while delivering an appearance that resembles anything even near the neighborhood of normal. My fearless husband is our ring leader, and, doing various acts and flips and stunts in rings on either side of us, you will find six beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed, persistent, messy, hilarious, challenging little girls. Yes, I know, I know … SIX GIRLS! No, we were not trying for a boy. No, we aren’t Catholic. Each one of these little tyrants can take us from gut-wrenching laughter to the edge of a cliff in a matter of seconds, and to say it’s like a rollercoaster ride would be a laughable understatement.

On any given day, there will be at least one room (usually more) that I walk into and then immediately turn around, walk out, and shut the door. Today that would be Sloan’s (our fifth) and Izzy’s (our third). I truly believe that I would have better luck trying to teach those pigs to fly than I would have keeping this place clean. If you come over, you’re going to stick to my counters. You’re going to find more apple cores around my house than in the pages of a Berenstain Bears book. There’s no guarantee that a little surprise won’t still be lurking in the toilet when you go into our bathrooms. (WHY WON’T THEY FLUSH?!) I’ve also seriously considered just giving up and telling people we run a fruit fly breeding program. I mean we’ve got reproduction down in this neck of the woods. In other words, if you stop by unannounced and miss the very tiny window where I have tidied enough to present my pretend house to planned company, please bring a hazmat suit.

The truth is, whenever anyone asks me how we do it all, my answer is easy … we don’t! Hang around for 20 minutes and you’ll see for yourself.

I am not supermom. Mass chaos is considered the routine. I forget things all the time. I can’t tell you how many rolls of toilet paper we go through because, honestly, it’s too frightening to keep track. I yell. A lot. I go to the grocery store more than the bathroom. And you should see us all in the car. It’s like a clown car, only instead of men-children with their faces painted in freaky patterns, it’s grumpy, needy little gremlins fighting the entire trip over who looked at who first. (Did I mention they all suffer from extreme motion sickness? That’s right. Envy me, people.) Someone always feels left out or let down. Someone is always hungry. Someone always has to pee at the worst possible time. I’d love to tell you I’m Carol Brady reincarnate. I’d love to say that I’m patiently and calmly helping them learn to solve their problems and hug it out, but I’m not. I’m human. I’m reactive. I’m selfish.

This brings me back to the little surprise I mentioned earlier.

Two days after finding out I was pregnant I started bleeding. I wholeheartedly thought I was having a miscarriage. That was such a strange moment. Strange because I was terrified, and strange because just hours before, I’d felt so much uncertainty about what this baby even meant. This was one of those moments when I had to stop and get my poop together. (Yes, I said poop. I’ve adapted to censorship.) I had to start reevaluating what family means. I had to realize what I would be losing in this new adventure (plans, so-called dreams, schedules and calendars) didn’t amount to a hill of beans, as my dad would say, compared to this new little life.

Having a large family is extremely uncomfortable. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Nothing is easy. Nothing ever goes as planned. As I’m writing this, my husband is picking blue slime out of our three-year-old’s hair. We weren’t put on this earth to be comfortable, though. I truly believe we were put here to be challenged. That’s how we change and grow. I know it’s cheesy, but I often think about diamonds and how much pressure it takes to transform them from a nasty lump of coal into something beautiful. Challenges do that. They teach us. They mold us. I pray that when this journey of motherhood slows down, and my little gremlins are grown, I will see that I have helped mold my kids into loving, God-fearing women. I hope to accomplish that for them, but I know they are doing that for me.

We always talk about our responsibilities as parents and how difficult they can be. God help us all, it really is difficult. But what we don’t discuss enough is what we get out of it. Each and every one of my babies has a totally different personality, and each one of them teaches me something different about myself. It’s like being in a fun house and having six images, all different, but all reflecting me. They are my mirrors, pointing out everything beautiful in my life, but also every flaw. Sometimes what I see is hard to swallow, and even harder to accept, but without them I’d never unlock that piece of myself. I wouldn’t challenge myself to keep growing, and keep going.

Everyone tells you that your kids grow up fast. I have a 14-year-old! Trust me, it does go fast. Every day with them is a gift. I won’t pretend for one second that I appreciate this gift the way I should on a daily basis. I won’t pretend that there aren’t times I think, Man, two kids would have been so much easier. What I will say, though, is that I will be eternally grateful for the moments I laid in bed feeling like the biggest failure in the world (and there are a lot of them), because those are the moments that humbled me. The ones that built and are building me. Those are the moments I had to pray for strength and step outside my comfort zone. I can’t quit this gig. I can’t give up. I have to become more. I have to keep pushing myself. The stakes are too high. I have to keep running, knowing each day I’m a little more equipped for the marathon. Eventually, I will get to a finish line and all the inconveniences and all the mistakes made and lessons learned will amount to something so much bigger than me.

When our little surprise baby was three weeks old, she gave her mama another big scare. She came down with a pretty serious infection. What followed were months of uncertainty. Months of stress. Out little seven-pound gift from God once again brought me a reminder: Life is so precious and makes you no promises. When I look at her, the reflection is one of gratitude and appreciation for what God has entrusted to me.

I used to worry about what everyone thought of me. I used to strive for the façade of perfection, or even normalcy. My large family may look like an inconvenient mess to many, but I just don’t care anymore. God knew it would take six girls to get through my thick skull that His purpose is so much bigger than anyone’s opinion. Love is not some beautiful fairytale. Love is hard. Its fabric is flaws and mistakes, discipline and tears. It’s laying in bed at night feeling like you can’t do this anymore only to get up the next day and try again. That’s the gift my large, insane, beautiful family brought me. The gift of love.

Thoughts

Calling a Code Brown

March 23, 2017

Last week, I ran into my sweet new friend in the parking lot at preschool.

“Hey! Did you get a new car?” I asked her.
“No, I got in an accident.”
“Oh my gosh! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I’m not that person. I don’t like to be Debbie Downer.”
“But, I don’t care if you’re Debbie Downer. You got in an accident?”
“I’m just not having a good week. I screamed at the kids yesterday for no reason, and I’m cranky, and …”

I was watching a very familiar ball of yarn – one I personally keep in my nightstand, next to the melatonin and emergency candy bars – unravel.

She’d taken a mental health day from work, she went on to say, because things were just piling up. Between yelling at her boys and being annoyed with her husband and questioning all of those pesky major life questions, she was mentally depleted and in need of a mindless, indulgent Netflix binge. As I stood there, an unforgiving morning wind intruding in our conversation, I listened as this strong woman, who I deeply care for, talked herself down into a hole. It was a ritual I’d practiced myself and with almost all of my girlfriends, my sister, and my own mother. I waited for an opening.

“Listen, I know exactly how you feel. All moms feel that way. We all have those lows and days where we feel totally defeated, and it’s OK! I promise. I was standing with my toes to the edge last week. And now you’re up. We all just take turns.”

I think we can all agree it’s time to call it good on the charade. Being a mom in any capacity on any day that ends in “y” is a crazy occupation. Crazy! Anyone ambitious enough to think they’re going to climb that ladder has another thing comin’. Between the demand and the clients and the hours, mere survival is considered an above par performance on the job. There are two kinds of days: The days you have enough milk for their cereal, and the days you have to go out into the garage and grab a new gallon. The days you catch the bus, and the days you chase it down and get reprimanded by the driver. The days you make it to work without incident and the days you hit the bump and spill coffee down your white button-down blouse sleeve.

I can tell you, within 10 minutes of my children waking, what kind of day lies ahead of me. I can feel it. Like the air before a tornado – Mother Nature’s hot breath. But we don’t show the sweat on our faces, no. We smile and we press on and we push all the shit way down deep because we think it makes us less of a mom or less of a wife or less of a woman if we aren’t acing all the things, all the time. Well, guess what … that’s bullshit.

I always say, God makes ‘em cute so you don’t kill ‘em. In my case, he doubled up just to be sure and made them funny, too.

On one particularly trying morning, I slipped and let the truth serum seep in. When Cheri in my office asked how my morning was, I said, “Oh, I’m fine, thanks, other than the fact that I want to go on strike against my entire family for a few days.” A spark flickered in her eyes. “You know,” she said, like a kid at confession, “once when the kids were little, I told my husband he had to take them and I checked myself into a hotel for the weekend. I just watched TV, did a little shopping, ate.” We laughed like idiots, and I thought about how many other times I should have put out the invitation for other mothers to share their tales from the trenches.

In the parking lot that morning, if I squinted really hard, I could see the little armies waging battle inside my girlfriend. One side was fighting in the name of vulnerability and transparency and saying all of the depressing shit she was really feeling, while the opposition was willing to die on that hill for the sake of smoothing it all over with a laugh and a shrug. I’m familiar with that war, that struggle. How much to share, when to share it, how to sugarcoat it, which parts of the day’s failures I should censor for fear of how it will poison the perception of my otherwise “tidy” life.

We women, we are an efficient bunch. We are anticipatory. We are prepared and organized and concerned. We shoot ourselves in both feet day after day after day by getting everyone up and dressed and fed and out the door. We sign permission slips and send notes about doctor’s appointments and talk to the sitter at length about the quality and quantity of the baby’s bowel movements. We do it because somebody has to do it. But sometimes, being the somebody who does it just chews you up and spits you out.

In holistic nursing, there’s something called a Code Lavender. When the code is called for a caregiver, he or she is given a purple bracelet to wear, signifying they are in emotional distress. People might be a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little quicker to forgive minor oversights. Well, I’d say it’s time for moms to get a code of their own. Code Yellow, maybe? Code Brown? (Signifying we’re in deep shit.) That way, we can offer hugs, or cocktails, or comforting cuss words to our fellow comrades who are momentarily flailing.

If you have a perfect household with a perfect spouse and perfect children and everything is all Marie Kondo perfect everywhere, that is incredible. But, for the rest of us, it’s really easy to feel lonely sometimes. We think we’re alone in thinking our kids are assholes on occasion. We think we’re the only one who wants to stop for a drink after work on Thursdays instead of sitting in the carpool pickup line. We think there’s a conspiracy that our neighbor’s house is always suspiciously clean while ours is reproducing dust at a mind-boggling rate. We hide our secret Lucky Charms addiction and exchange kale salad recipes.

But the Code Brown could revolutionize our sorority.

For example – and this is entirely hypothetical – if I saw you pulling into the local watering hole on a Monday afternoon and we locked eyes, and you just happened to flash your poo-colored wristband, I might offer to pick up your kids and keep them busy for an hour, no questions asked. And you would return the favor two days later, when it was me sporting the bracelet. If you saw me carrying a snot-covered, entirely hysterical child out of the grocery store and glanced down to find a doo-doo-hued decoration south of my fingers, you would know to say a silent prayer for my sanity (and my child). And I would do the same for you that Friday when you replicated the scene in the McDonald’s playdome. It’s an emotional exchange program, rooted in support and understanding.

So, who’s in? Who’s comin’ with me here?

Let’s remove the stigma staining our struggles and choose, instead, to help a sister out. Friends, I do not mind having your children over to play for a bit, no strings or expectations attached. It does not inconvenience me to listen to your recount of just how irrational your daughter got over al dente noodles last night. No one can hear a mother’s cries and gripes like another mother. I say it can’t count as a true failure if you speak it aloud and set it free.

I’m here. And I know you are, too.

Kids

I wanna be like Spike

March 15, 2017

Women talk a lot about raising each other up. We make signs and applaud the movement to flex and demonstrate our strengths enough to generate a mighty wind, which we’ll use to power a greater good. We post about offering our shoulders for others to stand on, so they might finally be able to reach their dreams. But what does all of this really look like? What is the commonplace, everyday application for lifting up our sisters? Or our neighbors? Or our children?

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how abstract these concepts have been to me. I mean, the memes are great, and I love a good quote, but when you take the lipstick off, what does this particular type of empowerment look like? I wasn’t sure. Until last weekend, when I stopped looking for a grand demonstration and saw it, instead, in its purest presentation. In my daughter’s eyes.

I think I told you guys how Hank and I recently jeopardized our status as mediocre parents when, in an effort to save some of our Saturdays, we decided to sign Spikey up for the same basketball team as JoJo, even though she was two years younger and 4 inches shorter than her average teammate. When we started to question our decision, we resigned ourselves to the argument that it would build character and make her just that much better. Adversity, after all, breeds growth, right?

Each week, the kids would have 30 minutes of practice followed by a 30-minute game. Each little player was on the court for two of the four quarters. Well, on that very first week, Spike took an arm to the glasses, and that was all she wrote. She was still up for the practices, but she turned on the tears when the coaches tried to put her in for the game. “I don’t like people running at me!” she would say through pouty lips under a drippy nose.

The team had two coaches, a man and a woman. The latter, Coach Kasey, just had a way. She was young and athletic and a card-carrying mom herself. She pushed ever so gently by standing right behind them, supporting and cheerleading. She never forced Spike onto that court. Ever. And it was a good thing, too, because I did everything wrong. I pulled every ill-fated play from the playbook. I drenched her in compliments for minor tasks. I bribed. I threatened. I guilted. All laughable attempts that were destined to fall short. And why would they work? After so many “I believe in you”s and “Never say can’t”s, your parents just start to sound like the salesperson at a department store. “Oh my gosh, you can totally pull off snakeskin pleather pants!” It’s just pink noise.

Coach Kasey would check in on our girl and then jog over to the sideline and give me updates. “She said she’d try in the next quarter.” “She’s afraid of that girl on the other team.” “Her knee hurts.” “Her eye hurts.” “She forgot to wear underwear.” Always being a fellow mom to me, but a strong example to them. Positive and constructive and subtle.

At their second to last game, Kay came to watch the girls play. Spike had promised for weeks that she would play for Kay. In fact, she’d asked if her former caregiver would come later in the season so she could be at her very best. You have to really know Kay to appreciate the pressure here. She is a former volleyball and basketball coach and she gets a little … intense. She likes to yell and throw up ref signals, and I’m pretty certain it’s all involuntary. So, when it came time for Spike’s debut, and there wasn’t a lot of movement on the bench, I got a little worried.

But Kay sure as shit didn’t. She just tucked her coat under her arm and marched right over. Hank and I stood aside and looked on as Kay, Coach Kasey and the referee, a sweet older teenage gal, huddled around our hesitant five year old and coaxed her onto the court. We let the village raise our child. She played for two of the six minutes that quarter. Parents in the stands gave her enthusiastic thumbs up as she walked back over to her seat to grab her water bottle. When it was her turn again, she turned in a solid 45 seconds right at the end. I was thrilled.

The tiny taste of the action was enough to awaken the humble giant inside her. The entire week leading up to the final matchup, she told us she was going to play the entire game – all of the minutes Coach Kasey wanted her to play. She wasn’t going to be fast or yelling or waving her arms, she prefaced, but she was going to stay in and stay right there with her coach.

And you guys, she did.

She really did.

Just like the other kids, she played two full quarters, glued to the role model she admired so. Where Coach Kasey went, Spike went. When Coach Kasey told her to put her hands up, pass, run, she did it. Soon, she was running on ahead of Coach Kasey, as her knowing instructor hung back just enough to let her lead. Standing right behind her. Masterfully pushing her on.

And then, the Rudy moment. She shot the ball. Twice.

This adorable love nugget – who spent game after game sitting curled up, knees to her nose, arms crossed, peeking up over her legs with her sparkly purple glasses – that little bug stepped up and flung the ball toward the hoop with everything in her, from her toes to her fingertips. I’d be lying if I denied I got choked up over the whole thing, for the love of leggings!

After the final buzzer, Coach Kasey handed out awards. JoJo got “Best Listener” and Spike got “Team Spirit”. Might as well have been “Best Actress in a Lead Role” and “Best New Artist”. They raced over to show us their certificates and the shiny medals they were wearing with smiles to match. I bent down and gave JoJo a squeeze, then turned to Spike. “I am so proud of you, honey. You really did it.”

She asked if I’d take a picture for her. I followed after her wild brown ponytail, so much pride in her step, as she juggled her snacks and her accolades on a path to find Coach Kasey. As I watched their teacher crouch down in between them, I swallowed hard. This woman probably thought she was just volunteering to share her time and talent with her son’s team. What she actually did was positively alter the mental makeup of a stranger, my Spikey.

It’s truly awesome how people come into our lives and unexpectedly, through the most modest efforts, build new bridges on the map. They rewire parts of our confidence, our character, our backbone. That was what Coach Kasey did for my daughter. By staying with her, behind her, she ever-so-slightly reprogrammed the part of her heart where bravery resides.

As we walked to the car, Spikey’s mind couldn’t catch up with her mouth. “As I ran down and back and forth and I checked the ball and I shot the ball up there, I kept getting prouder and prouder and braver of myself!” She told us how badly she wanted to play basketball again, but only if Coach Kasey could be there. Hank and I exchanged knowing grins, heavy with the burdensome truths grownups carry around. Not a conversation for today. How could I tell those baby brown eyes that we would only be putting her in her appropriate age group going forward, and that made our paths crossing again unlikely?

As we made our way down the road, I heard mousey sniffles. I turned around and tears were rolling down her tender cheeks.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked. She didn’t answer.
“Are you hurt?” JoJo inquired.
“Are you tired?” I offered.
“Are you embarrassed you forgot underwear?” JoJo threw out there, which finally made her smile.
“I miss Coach Kasey,” she sobbed. And I felt stinging at the backs of my eyes.

Ugh! I hated that it clicked so late for my gentle lady. I hated that she’d made that connection and now it was over. It’s like when everyone tells you the fried egg sandwich at a local restaurant is to die for but you put off making the trip, and then you do and it is so amazing and then they take it off the menu the next week. The worst! I’ll be honest, I’m fine with getting our Saturdays back, but I would sit there seven days a week to see the pride I saw that morning on her face again. Those victories are so few and far between. And the first couple you get in life are the sweetest ones of all.

Coach Kasey packed up her own family that day and went back to her routine. And I’m willing to bet she has mommy moments of her own where, like all of us, she feels inadequate, disappointing, under-qualified. Maybe not, I’m guessing here. But I hope that Saturday she felt a small sense of what she gave to our middle chick. That she became my real-life illustration of what it means to lift people up. Small girls need grown women they can model themselves after. They will mimic what’s put in front of them, whether it’s good or it’s bad. I am so moved by the influence this woman, whose name I’d never heard 10 weeks ago, had on my ladybugs.

This is what I so desperately want for this place; A community that raises up our fellow citizens and our tinies and one that fosters a warm, safe morale where everyone feels empowered. I don’t know about you, but it’s felt like much of the world has been standing out in the cold for months now. It’s isolating living in a place so plagued by conspiracies and discontentment. But my hope for my children is that it’s different through their eyes. As I looked over and saw other parents clapping for my daughter’s air ball, I felt my heart swell. It was like taking a full breath for the first time this year. All the way in … and all the way out.

I don’t need my girls to be all star athletes, let’s not kid ourselves here. But I did see the invaluable struggle between self doubt and perseverance playing out for their tiny souls on that court. People talk about the parallels between sports and the real world all the time. Now I get it. And if our time in that microcosm has any correlation to the current state of things, perhaps there’s hope for this race after all.

Be someone’s Coach Kasey.

Raise someone up if you can.

Let them stand on your shoulders and offer your voice to make theirs louder.

When pure intentions and unbridled encouragement come together, hope has plenty of room to grow and spill over into all the dark corners and spaces where doubt likes to dwell.

Raise someone up.

Try That With Matt

To my brother on his 40th birthday

March 14, 2017

I know you don’t want this. I know you’ve been dreading this day for 19 years, at least. I know in your mind this milestone is marked with canes and can’ts and all the limitations you fear so much. But all those thoughts were born before we knew the truth. Now we know what 40 really looks like on you. It kind of looks like 21 driving up in a Honda Odyssey. It looks like flippy cup over nice carpet and gift bags crammed full of craft beer. And that’s really not so bad.

We know the important things haven’t changed and, if anything, they’ve gotten better. You’re still active. You’re still loved. You’re still one of the funniest people I know, even though sometimes I really don’t want to laugh at your stupid, sarcastic self.

From far away, 40 might have looked like Mike Tyson biting someone’s ear off, but up close, it’s more like Mike Tyson talking to his pigeons, right? You’re fine. Everything is just fine. I’m proud of you.

Celebrating your last four decades with friends and family last Friday was a treat. I always forget just how hilarious you are until I see you in your element – hosting a room full of people, telling a story in that voice that thunders over the group, and shakes the ground as you punctuate the important parts. Even though most of us have heard your bullshit before, it always feels new, hysterical, hard to believe. You’re theatrical and over the top and completely ridiculous. The people who know you best, know you’re best served up in this state. Showing off and workin’ your side hustle as a professional smartass.

You’ve been blessed with good friends who accept and humor you always, and that’s a gift you get to open every day. Not everyone is that lucky. Never stop sitting around with them and telling those stories. I mean, when someone knows the punchline involves you shitting your pants and they still let you get all the way to the end without blowing the whole thing, that’s generous.

I can’t wait to see what your 40s hold. More challenges, more stories, more love. I hope you choose to walk a little lighter and settle into all the best parts of who you are. I hope you don’t grow up and you don’t stop fighting to be the person you want to be. Meditate. Hike. Relax.

I can’t necessarily see into the future, but I’d say some of your best is yet to come. I can tell you one thing that I predict with 100-percent certainty though. One thing I will gosh dang guarantee you won’t be happening in this decade. I hope you read this next part extra carefully, old man: I will NEVER, ever stand up to sing karaoke with you again. You hog the mic and you don’t need me up there. There’s only room in that spotlight for one star, and it’s all you, brotha.

So, happy birthday and best wishes, you lovable son of a … Here’s to 40 more!

JoJo Just Said, So Says Sloppy Joan, Spike Speak

Sisters say what? (Vol. 5)

March 7, 2017

We laughed to our guts! – Spike

I love to drink my tears. – Spike

JoJo, your face looks funn- [turns and runs into wall]. – Spike

It’s like raining snow! – Spike

Is “whore” another word for “seat”? – Spike

Are we cheering for the Steelers or the Takers? – Spike

I wish you were little, and you were my sister and you looked like you, but smaller. – Spike

Did you know grass is Mother Nature’s hair? – Spike

She laughed so hard she cracked herself out! – Spike

I think my eyes were playing tricks on your mouth. – Spike

See … isn’t having kids fun? – JoJo

Uncle Map is a kiddish grownup. – Spike

I’m having a lot of “excuse mes” today – Spike

Love isn’t just a word. It’s a feeling. – Spike

I wanna wear my bathing soup! – Sloppy Joan

Mom, can I tell you a secret? I’m the class helper a lot and I have to hand out markers. And when I hand out the markers, can I tell you the secret part? I give people markers that match their shirts. If they’re wearing blue, I give them blue. But if they’re wearing white, I have to give them a black marker or some other color. – Spike

Mom, you know, some grownups are smaller than teenage kids because they have shrunken. It’s not their fault. They just get smaller sometimes. – Spike

Is that for your things? – Spike,
Yes – Me
Oh. … Like, it holds them down?
Kind of. It holds them still.
Oh. … But I don’t need one yet, right? Because my things are so small.
Right. But you will when you’re bigger.
Right, like when my things are hangy.
Uh huh.

Do all the hookers have head lamps? – Spike

Mom … Mom, I have to tell you something. No, in your ear. [I bend down] I forgot underwear – JoJo, wearing Umbros at her co-ed basketball game

If you were a seahorse, you’d come out of your dad’s tummy. It’s true. – Spike

Does my bathing suit look like a lea-tart? – Spike

A lot of animals are made out of meat. So I say care for the honeybees, care for the birds, care for the everything. Even animals that don’t make food, I’m still saying to care for even all the animals. Even the ones that attack Mother Nature. – Spike

Dad, what’s that sound? – Sloppy Joan
What sound, babe? – Hank
That car sound.
What car sound?
That boom shakka lakka.

Did you pick up upstairs? – Me
I think we can do more. – Spike
How’s it looking’ up there? – Grammy
Ahhh, i don’t know if you heard me say, there’s more we can do. – Spike

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt & Co. The Showdown.

March 5, 2017

My family gathers around food. It’s just our thing. Father’s Day is about Dad’s famous grilled chicken. Christmas is for ham balls, chicken wings and queso dip. The girls, Hank and I have dinner every Friday night with my parents before playing three rounds of euchre (Team Granny Panties vs. Boys). And the granddaddy of them all, Big Breakfast, is a feast of Dad’s dippy eggs, pounds of maple sausage and bacon, mugs and mugs of coffee (with the naughty creamer, of course), pancakes, fried potatoes and cinnamon rolls that takes place around my parent’s dining room table every-other Sunday. In a way, this is our church, and the sermon is always written in shameless digs and sarcasm. The congregation is questionable at best.

I could talk about Big Breakfast for hours. Seriously. It’s all about how much time you have. You’ll have your constants, like Dad dripping in sweat over four pans of food, yelling out in desperation through a potato-smelling smoke, “How many more eggs do we need? Marilyn! I asked how many more eggs do we need?” Poor guy. He’s always just slaving away as the rest of us get our coffee in hand and watch CBS Sunday Morning, which is always, always on. You’re guaranteed a story about somebody, usually my mother, falling down. It seems someone in our family falls down at least once a week. Which is probably some form of karmic justice because we all laugh like idiots at the storyteller’s misfortune. I mean, I’m sorry, but if you don’t think folks eating pavement is a side-splitting good time, we just can’t communicate. I always get the middle cinnamon roll, because, it’s the best. Duh. And there are always babies fighting and biting each other over plastic princesses.

Then we sprinkle in some excitement occasionally for extra flavor. There was the time the girls called 9-1-1 five times, unbeknownst to us, and a sheriff showed up. There was the time the entire family spent an hour trying to wrangle a 200-pound pig named Kevin Bacon into a horse trailer. There was the morning Matt belched so loud (also not uncommon) that Mom startled and instinctively turned so quickly she popped something in her neck. Or the beautiful Sunday morning Mom and I were sitting on the deck while the kids played and I leaned too far back in my plastic chair and flipped over backward. Or – and this is one of my favorites – the time my nephew took us on a Polaris ride and my brother, really, really had to go to the bathroom, so he jumped off the moving four wheeler when we got close to the house, his butt cheeks clenched so tightly he only came down on his toes and then waddle/ran all the way to the door.

And then there’s my tiny white nemesis. My parents have this rescue dog, Josie. She’s one of those tiny things, a mix of two different breeds that both have names that sound like poop, Caca-something or Doodle-other. All I know is she loves my dad’s soft bosom and licks her butt and then licks his face and I’m the only one who finds the entire relationship completely appalling. Plus, just the juxtaposition of this giant man holding a frail little dog never seems normal to me. Big Rog, knowing how I feel about the tiny mutt, refers to her as “my little sister”. “Aw, aren’t you going to say hi to your little sister?” “Your little sister had to be sedated to get her teeth cleaned, poor thing.” And so on. Well, at the last Big Breakfast, my ten-tons-of-fun brother pulled a skin tag clean of her neck with his bare hands because he thought it was a tick. She let out of tiny yelp and the whole thing was over as fast it it began. “What is that?” he asked, holding it up between his thumb and his index finger. “Oh my gosh!” Mom replied. “You pulled off her mole!” As Spike would say, “I was laughing to tears.”

See, what I mean … how much time do you have? It’s a sunny-side-up sideshow at a low-budget three-ring circus, this family.

So, why am I talking about all this? Well, partly because I got sidetracked, but I started because Big Breakfast is now part of a winner-takes-all contest several years in the making. It’s sort of a Try that with Matt … and Hank, and Kirsten, and Rog, and Marilyn. That’s right, we invited the whole kookie clan to join us for an extra-special, family-wide weight loss challenge. The Hupe Heifer Showdown began on Sunday, February 19. Six weeks, person who loses the highest percentage of body weight, wins.

Let’s meet the competitors.

The husband.
Honestly, we’re more allies than anything so it’s really hard for me to be an asshole about this one. I make his food, so sabotage wouldn’t even be a game at this point. (“They’re these weird Swedish nutrition bars. My mom used to give them to the kids in Africa to help them gain weight.”) Plus, I’m pretty sure his heart isn’t in it and he’s only participating to humor the acorns at the nuthouse.

Why he could win: This guy can drop some weight when he wants to. But he also has an addiction to authentic Mexican fare and miscellaneous goodies. Dark horse here for sure.

The parents.
Considering the parameters of the challenge, either one of these clowns could just demolish us if they wanted to. Their plan is to adjust their macronutrients (proteins, carbs) and workout more. Now, this brings up a topic that must be addressed. This is not a joke, you guys. My parents wear denim to workout. We’re talking full-on, chafe-your-nether-regions, unforgiving, tough as Clint Eastwood, 5-0-1 jeans here. I once walked a 4-mile race with my dad while he was wearing jorts, aviators and a ball cap. They just go out there like, “Hey, no big deal. I was just doing some light grocery shopping and decided to pop in for a little workout. What’s this spandex you speak of?” And it just baffles me entirely.

These people also grew up in a time when the shelves weren’t crowded with food and to waste wasn’t an option. When my dad was little, he once ate his entire meal after, af-ter, someone at the dinner table sneezed and skyrocketed a boog right onto the side of my dad’s plate. He just pushed right past it. If he put that type of dedication toward cleaning up his diet and moving a little more, or my mama did the same, this could be theirs for the taking. Although, I did have a tense 20-minute argument with my dad over the benefits of white bread (him for, me against) on Friday, so … I’ve got that goin’ for me.

Why they could win: A lifetime of refined flour and 9 p.m. snacking set these two up for some serious success if they can change their habits.

The brother.
On the morning of our initial weigh-in, Matt was running a few minutes late. As we all started going through the breakfast buffet a la Roger, my big brother walked in the back door, peeled off his shirt, then his pants and then pulled his boxer briefs up his crack before stepping onto the scale. The Chris Farley-esque stunt had Mom bent over clenching all of the pee-releasing muscles. It was bold. It made a statement. It lessened my appetite. I’m pretty sure this dude would sit in a sweat suit hovering over coals in a sauna for 48 hours straight to win this thing. I’ve been seeing him at the gym at 5 a.m. and I know he wants it. Problem is, he also wants deep dish pizza and all of the chocolate cakes. The struggle is so, so real.

Why he could win: I’ve often thought that Matt was missing the chip inside most people’s bodies that says, “No! Stop! This is the most I can take!” He’s lifted a riding lawnmower into the back of a truck by himself. The guy is Thor dressed up as an insurance agent. When he turns it on, he can hammer some workouts. Plus, he sweats like a whore in a Texas church in August.

The sister.
Dear, sweet, chocolate-covered Kirsten. My sister has six, count ‘em, six little girls. She runs ragged on all the days that end in “y” and the past few months in particular have been heavy with stress. To cope, she focused on what she needed to do for her chick-a-dees and less on taking care of herself. (Raise your hand if the lyrics to this tune sound familiar to you?) When you grow up with the nickname “Skelator,” the concept of having to work for a good weight can be a bit foreign. Kirsten has always been long and lean and now she finds herself in unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, territory. She’s rich in knowledge about healthy eating and so, so short on time, so she has her sights set on regaining balance for sure.

Why she could win: In her own words: “Because I’m too stubborn to let Matt win.” One of my fondest memories from childhood was watching Kirsten chase Matt around the island in the kitchen with a butcher knife after he’d pushed her buttons one too many times. What I’m saying is, there’s a history here. If it’s between cutting off an arm and losing to Matt, she’s severing the limb.

The me.
I have spent so many words in this space talking about my love of sweets and lack of control, it would be silly to steal more real estate expanding upon it now. Other than, just for the sake of transparency, i should mention that Hank brought home five boxes of Girl Scout cookies last week, so the cards are somewhat stacked against me. I hope somebody gets a damn patch on their sash for the internal shit I’m going through right now.

Why I could win: If Kirsten and Matt somehow destroy each other before or at the final weigh-in, my odds are pretty fair. Here’s hoping.

Those are the ponies. Ladies and gents, place your bets!