Thursday, February 21, 2013

Magic, mayhem and misery at a junior high talent show

Pulblished for -- HERE's the link

Ten years and three-and-a-half kids into our marriage, my husband Jeff told me a story. Over the years, I’d come to suspect that junior high hadn’t been the highlight of his social career. This story removed all doubt.
From a young age, Jeff fancied himself a famous magician. He reasoned that such a goal was entirely within reach, as long as he tried hard enough. Since his family budget couldn’t spring for magic lessons or any store-bought props, Jeff spent hours in the library and his basement perfecting his craft.
Landing audiences can be tough, especially when one’s fame is still in its infancy. Jeff’s family was supportive and all, but even the most loyal fans can tire of the same three tricks after a few years.
So in eighth grade, Jeff was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of performing in his junior high school’s talent show. He fretted about the tryouts, but needn’t have. The sleight of hand card trick he had practiced approximately 5,000 times wowed the judges, and they gave Jeff his long-awaited break.
What the judges didn’t quite catch — probably because Jeff didn’t tell them — was that sleight of hand tricks weren’t exactly what he envisioned for the big stage. So, in a fit of logic and reason, Jeff completely switched gears. He engineered a montage of magic, if you will, cleverly combining the styles of David Copperfield and Harry Houdini. Each illusion was to be perfectly choreographed and timed to a slightly edgy '80s dance tune.
... in a fit of logic and reason, Jeff completely switched gears. He engineered a montage of magic, if you will, cleverly combining the styles of David Copperfield and Harry Houdini. Each illusion was to be perfectly choreographed and timed to a slightly edgy '80s dance tune.
Shock and awe were Jeff’s ultimate goals.
After endless preparation, the moment arrived. Shortly after Jeff stepped onto the stage in his rented tuxedo, a few things dawned on him:
  • First, angles are everything. His rehearsal stage (in the cultural hall of his local church) allowed the audience a very limited, head-on view of the performance. In total juxtaposition, the stage at his junior high was designed to offer visual access to the stage from almost every angle.
    Angles proved problematic when Jeff dramatically retrieved items from his “empty” box. The box’s extra-thick back panel — in which the items were stored — was clearly visible to the majority of the audience.
  • Second, lighting is everything. The glaring fluorescent lighting that illuminated the stage was in stark contrast to the eerily dim lights during rehearsals.
    Bright lighting proved problematic when Jeff’s assistants — his sister and a friend wearing black leotards and fish net stockings (I didn’t believe it either, but it’s true) — tried to remain undetected while moving one end of a black thread up and down. The thread’s other end was attached to a “floating” handkerchief over which Jeff was brandishing a magic wand.
  • Third, timing is everything. Jeff had probably determined during rehearsals that his special effects expert, his brother, was no expert. But one can always hope for the best.
    Hoping proved problematic when more than one disappointingly tiny firestorm erupted at random intervals, completely out of sync with both the illusions and the music. Flash powder is nothing if not unpredictable.
There’s more, but I believe an accurate picture has been painted.
Well, he did it. Jeff’s ultimate goals had been realized. His audience was certainly shocked ... and awed ... and at times very, very confused.
To their credit, most of his classmates gave him a wide, awkwardly silent berth the rest of the day. But even their collective embarrassment on his behalf couldn’t come close to equaling Jeff’s own.
His mom was in the audience that day. At the dinner table that evening, she casually announced how she had managed to squeeze enough money out of their tight budget for Jeff to take magic lessons. Moms are awesome like that.
Enlarge image
Each time my kids hear this embarrassing story about their father, I always emphasize that, with any luck, they might just end up marrying former nerds. From where I stand, that would be the best — the most magical outcome of all. (Photo: Susie Boyce)
My kids — particularly the teenagers — can barely handle this story, at least not without excessive cringing. Heck, I had a hard time handling it. I remember junior high too well.
Understandably, my kids often fail to grasp this story’s bigger picture, so I spell it out for them as best I can:
  • First, their dad’s magic skills have come in handy at dozens of birthday parties, including their own, and family gatherings.
  • Second, his habit of working hard to achieve goals has proven valuable both in his career and at home, where he works all kinds of magic.
  • Third, nerdy kids might be nerdy, but their futures could be very bright. As hard as it is to imagine, those very nerds may someday be running the companies my kids will want to work for.
Additionally, I always emphasize that, with any luck, my kids might just end up marrying former nerds. From where I stand, that would be the best — the most magical outcome of all.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Adventures in convalescence

As a result of my accident, I was rendered practically helpless for three solid weeks.

People cared, and people helped.

A few examples

My kids were driven to and from school, choir, basketball practices and games, church activities, piano lessons, driver’s ed, track.  Etc. 

I was driven to and from doctor’s offices.  Any other outing was completely out of the question.

People bought and delivered groceries, at times refusing to let me write reimbursement checks.

My mom did -- and still does -- more than I could ever list.

People brought me stuff.

Here’s a partial list (emphasis on partial, as I could never remember everything):

One Monday morning at 8 a.m., Rob informed me that he needed a pair of track shoes with spikes – which he didn’t yet own -- by the time his track period began in the early afternoon.   I called a friend.   A pair of brand-new Nike track shoes was at the high school by 1 p.m.

Dozens of dinners for the family and lunches for me – always delivered by someone who stayed to talk, clean or throw in a load of laundry.  At times, especially during the first week, I would involuntarily fall asleep while talking to them.  They would then make sure I was comfortable, finish whatever household job they were working on and quietly leave.

Sugar cookies, 7 Layer Bars, Jamba Juice, an Edible Arrangement and cupcakes from Flour Shop Bakery (world’s best cupcakes).

Bath salts and cream to help heal bruising and sore muscles.

Pre-made lunches for all of the kids to bring to school, plus school lunch foodstuffs for the next several days.

A pedicure.  My sister Rachelle is the bomb (not sure if that word is cool anymore, but my sister sure is).

One to two get-well cards (per day!) from Grandma and Grandpa Layer (world’s best grandparents).

***Offensive Language Alert:  The following contains a word that made my 10-year-old’s eyes go wide, even wider when she saw how much I laughed after opening the package. 

A stuffed floral fabric doll with red X’s for eyes, orange yarn hair and this little diddy sewn onto its belly:

Dammit Doll
Whenever things don’t go so well,
And you want to hit the wall and yell,
Here’s a little dammit doll,
That you can’t do without.
Just grasp it firmly by the leg
And find a place to slam it.
And as you whack the stuffing out
Yell “dammit, dammit, dammit!”

A Willow Tree figurine of a woman dressed in white holding a bouquet of roses entitled “Surrounded by Love” (juxtaposition to the above-mentioned doll duly noted).

A shower chair (albeit very helpful, it made me feel . . . well, old).

A walker (ditto to above parenthesis).

$40.  A friend’s mother-in-law was visiting, heard about my accident and gave my friend these instructions along with the money, “This is for the girl who got hit – tell her to use it to buy pizza for her family.”  My friend delivered the money along with an awesome pulled pork dinner.  We ordered pizza from Carmine’s (highly recommend!) at the end of that week.

Although every gift has been tremendous, the two (non-edible) ones that are used the most around here are:

The walker.  My boys delight in pulling the waists of their basketball shorts up past their belly buttons while inching the walker around the house in a stooped-over fashion.  
It’s great fun.

My new doll -- always there when I need her.  We'll be BFF's forever.

My brain fatigues quickly and sometimes malfunctions in curious ways (more on that later), so I have a ways to go.  But I can officially perform basic mom duties like driving, making peanut butter sandwiches and throwing in a load of laundry when the pile gets ridiculous.

Functioning is great and necessary and all, but I find that I miss the company.  Who knew that there were so many selfless, remarkable people in this world?

If you ever find yourself doubting the existence of good-hearted people, you could always wander around a parking lot and hope that an SUV comes round a corner and hits you.

Or you could just give me a call (it's the wimpy way out, but I won't judge).

Either way, your doubts will soon be gone.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

May the odds be ever in our favor

Funny things, odds.

Generally speaking, a person is in the majority.  But unless we’re talking 100%, someone always has to be in the minority.

So why not me and my family (a few times running)?

Odds are, for example, that my dad – who has never smoked a cigarette in his life -- would not have Stage 4 lung cancer that metastasizes to his bones.

But he does.

Even more remote are the odds that my parents – who still buy gifts at garage sales out of financial necessity and a lifetime habit of frugality – would finance a cruise for all 8 of their kids, kids’ spouses and themselves so that we could have one last, awesome memory together as a family while Dad is still with us.

But they did.

Odds are probably still less (although I haven’t done the research so don’t go quoting this) that someone walking through a grocery store parking lot would be hit by an oncoming vehicle (and walk away with relatively few injuries).  

But I was, and I did.

And finally, odds are teeny-tiny that the very ship that my parents booked for our family’s (quite literal) once-in-a-lifetime cruise would catch fire in the Caribbean just 6 days before our cruise -- and that our cruise would be cancelled. (I looked it up -- there are approximately 297 cruise ships in operation which embark on dozens, sometimes hundreds, of trips each year.)

But the ship did catch fire.  And our cruise was cancelled.

I know, right?

Like I said, someone has to be in the minority. 

I have most definitely experienced a few (okay, several) head-shaking, fist-shaking, "Are-you-freakin'-kidding-me?" moments.

But are the odds really not in our favor?  It might be more a question of semantics, a definition of terms.

True, we don’t exactly all have our health.  But we have each other -- my dad is still here, and so am I.

We have abiding faith in a loving Heavenly Father -- who, along with infinite compassion, certainly possesses a sense of humor and irony.

We have amazing friends and neighbors.  Truly.

We laugh a good deal more than we cry.

We aren't currently on the ship eating onion and cucumber sandwiches and using overflowing toilets (the regrettable fate of the passengers right now, according to news reports).

And in April (my fabulous mom rallied almost immediately after hearing the news and re-booked our cruise), the hope is that I won't be convalescing from the accident anymore.  Which means that instead of the plus-size floral moo moo I was going to pack (my bruises still being fairly unattractive), I might go out on a limb and pack a swim suit.

There's always a bright side.

So even when the odds don't seem to be in our favor, may they always -- somehow or another -- be in our favor.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Being hit by an SUV will change your resolve on distracted driving

Published for -- HERE's the link
Published for Deseret News -- HERE's the link
Published for Cross Timbers Gazette -- HERE's the link

The SUV hit me, launching me into the air before my body slammed back down onto the grocery store parking lot.

I came to, shaking uncontrollably.  Someone was putting pressure on the back of my head to stop the bleeding.  Several voices told me not to move, that the ambulance was on its way.  I saw a man’s feet approaching; he knelt down and asked my name, the date, my age and the name of the President of the United States.  A woman wanted to know who she could call.

Because I was in shock, my answers were inarticulate.  But there was nothing fuzzy about one question that kept running through my mind, “What was the last thing I said to each of my kids?”

The paramedics arrived, strapped me up, hoisted me into the ambulance, took my vitals and stuck a needle in my arm (several times, in fact).  They asked me more questions, including the name of the President of the United States.  

A paramedic then took a gigantic pair of scissors and cut my absolute favorite pair of jeans, all the way up the sides (adding serious insult to injury).  Semi-coherently, I tried to negotiate a deal where they would reimburse the cost of the jeans -- plus a teensy bit more for pain and suffering.  They referred me to their boss.

In the ER, I was disrobed and poked and prodded and CAT scanned and X-rayed.  And in a surprise move, the doctor even asked if I happened to know the name of the President of the United States. 

No disrespect to the President or his name, but I was much more concerned about what I had last said to my kids.  While waiting for test results, I finally had time alone and managed to remember (with five kids and an addled brain, this was no easy task).

“I love you, sweetie!”

“Should I buy two or three dozen donuts for your birthday tomorrow?”

“How big is the world geography textbook you need a cover for?”

“I’ll be back in about half an hour, bud.  Don’t forget to rinse your plate and put it in the dishwasher.”

“I’m taking your brother to his practice later, so Dad will be here in an hour to pick you up.  Don’t be afraid of the ball, sweetheart.  Have a great practice!”

Minutes after yelling those final instructions to my daughter as she dribbled her basketball into the gym, I had parked my car in the grocery store parking lot and started walking towards the entrance.

I understand that saying “I love you!” every time I talk to my kids would be setting the bar a bit high.  But I didn’t like that my score on that day was only one out of five.  In fact, it made me cry.

The doctor returned to report that I had suffered a concussion, scrapes, bruising and pulled muscles -- but no internal bleeding or fractures.

A police officer came in next, explaining how he had just interviewed witnesses and watched the security video of the incident.  The driver had been driving too fast, looking down and hadn’t seen me until too late. I had screamed and put both of my hands on the hood -- as if trying to push the SUV away -- and in doing so had protected my torso from taking a direct hit.

In fact, he emphasized, I had reacted exactly how I needed to in order to save myself from serious injury or death.

The officer looked directly into my eyes and said, “I’ve seen a lot of accidents, and you are very, very lucky.”

I believe that it was more than luck.  Seeing as I’ve never been trained on how to deflect an oncoming SUV, I felt nothing but profound gratitude for the unseen hands that guided mine, and that cushioned my fall.  Clearly, it wasn’t my time to go; the outcome could just as easily have been tragic.

Distracted driving.  We’ve all seen it.  Most of us have been guilty of it.  At what point do we decide that it’s simply time to stop?  Many vehicles literally weigh a ton, sometimes two.  Is a phone call or text while driving, or even reaching to pick something up, worth what we’re risking by letting ourselves be distracted?  Far too much is at stake. We have no idea whose lives could be forever altered by our looking away.

It might be a mom, wearing her favorite pair of jeans, walking into a store to buy donuts for her son’s 12th birthday. 

The next morning, I heard my sister singing these words on my voice mail:

No New Year’s Day to celebrate
No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away
No first of spring
No song to sing
In fact here’s just another ordinary day

I’d never been more grateful for another ordinary day.