Safety Is No Accident

Some time ago, we unwrapped the many ways I felt blessed to still be alive—despite my parents’ lackluster effort on that front. Yes, they loved us and fed us and didn’t allow us to drink arsenic, but I think we can all agree there was some iffy judgment on their parts when it came to trampolines, nunchucks and furnace safety.

floorfurnace

We had a floor furnace similar to this. We three kids would sit around the firey-hot metal grates to warm up. It was so hot that if you stood on it, grate lines would melt into the soles of your shoes. So let me repeat, we’d sit around it in our non-flame retardant pajamas to get warm. Didn’t my parents ever worry that “warming up” would escalate into “catching fire?”

furnacefire

My imagination is overly vivid at times, but this is actually how I remember it.

Side Note: When the blazing fire pilot light would go out, I’d watch—in absolute horror—as my dad descended into the bowels of hell to re-ignite it. I was forever certain he would get blown up, and we’d be left with no Daddy and no heat.

As an adult, I can get around my parents “letting some things go,” but it’s harder to understand why our very schools and city parks were so negligent.

Times have changed in a major way. What use to pass muster—playgrounds, p.e. activities, safety measures—is somewhat mind-blowing.

Shall we head down that road?

Remember these scary-go-rounds?

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If not, let me tell you how these worked. A few kids would hop on, while a few other kids grabbed a led-poisoned pole, and ran in a circle until they reached top speeds. Once maximum speeds were attained, the runners could do one of two things.

They could either let go and watch the ensuing melee, or they could hoist themselves up to enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, a third option sometimes presented itself. Once in a while, a runner wouldn’t be able to let go, and he’d end up losing his footing and getting drug through gravel—and if he was extremely unlucky, a limb or two would get stuck under the death trap.

As for the gullible crew riding the giant sit-n-spin—well, their outcomes also ran the gamut. Generally, one or more kids would lose their grip and fly off (and I mean FLY.) The ones who were able to successfully battle inertia were either throwing up or getting pelted with other kids’ saliva and tears.

Thanks City.

Remember climbing ropes in p.e. class?

ropes

Well aren’t those images just adorable. A spotter? A mat? Assistance knots? A harness? Not one depiction in these lying images rings a bell in my mind.

I remember hardwood floors, a 40-foot rope and a lot of yelling. I do not remember being told what to do if I did made it to the top of the building to ring the bell. I do not remember any warnings about the ensuing rope burn caused by descending it like a fire pole. I do remember logging the memory in the category, “The moment I realized my childhood was over.”

Does this red rubber ball bring back memories? This was the kind of weapon we used in dodge ball.

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Cut to today’s cozy foam ones. You can pinch off pieces of these. The red rubber ones pinched off pieces of you.

Are you kidding me? I'd use that for a pillow.

Are you kidding me? I’d use that for a pillow.

This is how the boys looked when they took aim at you. In all fairness, it’s how I looked, too. I flat-out loved dodge ball and lived for days we got to play.

dodgeballthrowing

I’m not even sure it’s played in school anymore. If it is, I’d bet the farm the rules have changed. I’m quite certain there’s a heavy penalty for throwing today’s soft foam balls at an opponent’s face. You know what happened when you hit someone in the face when I was young?

They were out.

metalslide3

Some of you may be looking at this like it’s a photoshopped joke—saying, “I’ve never seen a slide that’s not red or yellow chunky plastic.”

When I was young, the slides did one thing all day—roasted themselves in the baking hot sun.

They were dangerously hot. They were also not regularly inspected. Some of them would have a split in the hand rails, which meant that if you were a nervous newbie—who slid down holding the sides—you could very easily end up with a laceration between your thumb and forefinger.

Yeah, too bad for you—they were painted with a color called “Tetanus Grey.”

You also had a pretty big decision to make, once at the top—and once you verified the surface temps of 150. If you pulled your knees up to your chin—to keep your calves and hammies from suffering second degree burns—you would descend at rates a 4th grader can’t successfully negotiate. Your landing would range from heroic, to one where your friends assessed your dislocated bone situation.

These teeter-totters—or see-saws, depending on where you grew up—look fairly harmless, right?

teetertotter

Well they are, if two well-intentioned, equally weighted kids play on them. Anything short of that left one or more participants nursing an injury. We used to add people to one end, if the other end had a “sturdy” occupant. I’m sure that would be grounds for juvie these days.

“She, she, she said she needed to add at least a first grader to her end so our weight would be even! She basically called me fat! Suspend her!”

Back then, evening out the ends was just basic street smarts. No harm, no foul.

We’d ride up and down forever—talking and laughing. These were good times with good teeter-totter friends. There were also some bad times, with bad teeter-totter friends-turned-foes.

About the meanest thing you could do to a partner was get to the bottom and jump off. It would send the high person crashing dramatically to the ground.

Juvie for that, too? Please. It wasn’t even worth mentioning to a parent, much less a teacher. It would be like saying, “Sara said she doesn’t like my shirt!” … “Yeah? And? Get back to your desk, you little snitch.”

scooter

Anyone remember these little gems? Was there anything better on God’s green earth than scooter-relay day?

Yes. Three things.

  1. Days when you didn’t get your baby fingers run over by Angie Brown’s scooter.
  2. Days when you didn’t get overzealous in your attempt to swim your arms faster, faster, faster—and catapult yourself chin-first into the germ-laden gym floor.
  3. Days when you didn’t get kicked in the teeth by Rodney Wheeless, who always took wide and wild left turns.

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How about tetherball? We spent countless hours on this fun, yet ill-conceived game. The chances of it going well were next to nil. You’d literally spike the ball, with all your might, directly toward your close opponent. Yes, the intent was to pass her head and wrap the ball around the pole—but more times than not, her timing had yet to develop, and she’d end up getting tattooed with the unnaturally hard tetherball.

tether_ball

Did any school officials ever consider that some little nugget might actually get the rope wrapped around his nugget head and choke to death? Doubtful.

Did you ever play on these guys? We did “cherry drops” from them.

monkeybars

We’d hang from our knees and start a swinging motion. We’d work back and forth until we were swinging high enough to let go and stick our landing. There was a 50% chance we’d land on our feet. There was a 100% chance our bars weren’t on a grassy playground—but on a concrete floor in the gym.

We were never once told to stop doing cherry drops.

grrr

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m so thankful I grew up when I did. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite the “dangers” and “life-threatening situations” and “abject negligence,” I feel like one of the blessed ones.

I love that back then, we were allowed to play, explore and simply figure things out. I also love that it was permissible to nail people in the face with red rubber balls. I could use more of that.

Let’s link up on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Dear Diary, I Get Around

Last week I had a conversation with a co-worker about why some people seem to have no self-awareness. We questioned why some people don’t pick up on social cues; why they can’t tell when they’ve intruded on a conversation; why they don’t read the faces of those who are negatively receiving the words they’re delivering. We puzzled over some people’s inability to read the unfavorable reactions of others.

But also not funny.

But also not funny.

We both confessed to hoping our self-awareness was on point and felt like—as a rule—it was. We ended the conversation feeling pretty darn good about our ability to read social cues and self-regulate.

My self-awareness confidence took a mighty blow later that night when—for reasons I can’t remember—I peeked into the first journal I ever owned and saw something wholly mortifying.

Unbeknownst to me, I was a first-rate floozy.

Let’s unpack these shameful years.

diary

This was my first diary, and it was given to me by my sister. Many months ago, we discussed a few of the entries in this journal, related to the rigorous crush I had on one of my middle school teachers, Coach McCahon.

That was but the tip of the iceberg.

diary1

You’ll see that this is the first of many professions of love. Apparently, I had a lot of it to give as a kid. Also, please note—I am nine. This will be an important detail as we move along.

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I wonder what good things happened to me? Was it the fact that we had company? That my autograph was coming along? Time will tell.

I’m not sure what’s more shocking—that I felt Groundhog Day was worth two mentions or that I love a boy “very much” when I’m still drinking milk with my supper.

diary4

Here we are. And because this simply cannot be said enough—I’M NINE. Okay, I kind of understand how I could think I love him; but it’s shocking to me that I’m eager to kiss him. It’s more shocking that I want it to be “for a long time.” It’s jaw-dropping that I’m going to take the bull by the horns, when I don’t even have enough years under my belt to spell lips correctly.

diary5

Great. I’m ready for marriage. I’m simple-minded enough to think a definition of spring is warranted, yet I’m contemplating the rightness of nuptials and monogamy.

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Still hoping he pops the question. I wonder where I thought it would happen? I have vivid memories of playing inside the big tractor tires on our elementary playground with him—I bet that’s where I hoped he’d drop to one scabbed knee. Oh, and if the suspension is killing you, I did get Mrs. DeShields—so my appalling punctuation was her gift that year.

diary7

WHAT?! What the hell is, “well, you know?!” No, I don’t know! WHERE ARE MY PARENTS?! So again, I think it’s worth pointing out—I’m ready to get serious, but I only manage to get the first and last letters right.

Side Note: I actually remember writing this. I was listening to the Top 9 at 9 on KQTY. I hate to tell you this, but it was when, back-to-back, they played Endless Love by Lionel Richie and Feels So Right by Alabama. This is not cute, y’all—it’s capital T Troubling.

diary8

Still love Billy. Still can’t spell for shit.

Side Note: This kind of enduring love shouldn’t be plausible when I’m young enough to still enjoy puppet shows.

diary9

Hmm, wonder when this happened—a new dude. You will see that this is the beginning of my downward spiral into tramp-ville. I’m 10 now—apparently approaching womanhood—and want some skating rink lip-locking.

Side Note: I remember this entry too, and he was there. We couple-skated to Hard To Say I’m Sorry by Chicago, and the song was especially meaningful to me because, while Brandon was a “hunk and a half,” I felt like I owed him an apology for coveting his speed skates.

diary10

More love in the air. I love God and I love a new boy, Kevin. I found my watch a week later in a pair of shoes—so I’m sure I double-loved God that day, but just didn’t get it documented.

diary11

Still love Kevin.

diary12

I’m going with Daxton, but I’m not sensing much love. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with a man 18 years my senior. No big deal. Oh, and I’m still struggling with basic spelling.

dairy13

I guess Coach McCahon was a gateway drug to Paul McCartney. Let’s see, I was 11 and he was, what, 70? Seems natural that I would love him and write about him in my diary, along with my grades, my Christmas gifts and an unforgivable spelling of the complicated word, “for.”

Side Note: The super clever initials are, Anna Christie BFFs … I love Paul McCartney (because one mention wasn’t enough) … I love Daxton Patterson (guess I did love him after all) … I love Scott McCahon (so, two men whose combined age was approximately 100) … I love my family … and Heaven only knows what BMOA stands for. I shutter to think.

diary14

And we’re back. Yes, these entries are in order.

diary15

In case anyone forgot.

diary16

Whoa. Daxton is out of the rotation.

diary17

Enter: Donny Griffin. Sure doesn’t seem like I’m very judicious with my love. If I spent half as much time on learning to spell as I did on acknowledging my love for anyone with a Y chromosome, we’d be in good shape.

diary18

There’s a lot going on here. Apparently I enjoyed learning about Anne Frank. I also worried a lot about our income tax return. I thought my TV debut—for something related to basketball and a telethon—would catapult me to stardom. I still loved Coach McCahon, and his body—despite his snotty behavior—but it wasn’t reciprocal. Spelling is still out of my wheelhouse.

diary19

Spoiler alert: I still love Coach McCahon, and Christi and I did not remain best friends for all of eternity, as I predicted—but hey, my grades were on point and I spelled some words right.

diary20

So much love to be had here. I’m still in love with a fully grown man, and Donnie (a new Donnie) is romantic. HOW? How is a 12-year old romantic? I have to know. Can someone remind me what pre-teens do to be romantic? Seems as if all that romance is fleeting, since I’m still with Donny G, but would also be down for some Donnie W, or Scott or Mike lovin’ on the side. Well, at least I also love my family and God—so some morsel of me remains honorable.

diary21

Sheesh, what’s with this income tax return? And why was I on TV again? I didn’t profess any love in this entry, but I can tell you that I wholeheartedly loved DQ. And it’s almost worrisome that I was so attached to my diary that I thought it could join me in prayer.

diary22

A new player: Mike Hammonds. I see no mention of love, so I must be taking things slow this time around.

diary23

Aww, poor Mike—I still don’t love him. I guess I’m just passing time until Coach McCahon and his “good body” get with the program.

diary24

I loved IZODS. I wonder if that’s why I was so obsessed with our income tax return?

diary25

I love God. I also love Coach McCahon, Mike Hammonds (although I question my sincerity on this one), God again, my family—and as a bonus, the w/w/w (whole wide world). That’s you—you’re welcome.

diary26

No love here, but I include it to tell you that my friends and I tried out for the talent show by dancing a choreographed number to MJ’s Billie Jean. On the opening beat, our backs were to the judges—as we stood with our feet shoulder-width apart—and one by one, we spun around and pointed out across the auditorium dramatically. We wore white tennis shorts, IZODs and Gilligan hats. I can’t make this up—nor would I want to.

Side Note: We didn’t make it.

diary29

I was single? How did I survive? Oh I know—on the “total” love I had for Scott Frederic.

diary30

Really diggin’ this Scott fellow. Let’s not allow the misspelling of his name to negate the obvious depths of my love.

diary31

But for now, Layne Moffitt will do.

diary32

I’m now going with Steven Moore, but love Ricky Schroder. Where’d Layne go? That was fast. I can say with confidence that I was more devoted to The Ricker than Steven, as I had approximately 104 pictures of him wallpapering my bedroom.

diary33

My love for Brad (yes, this is a new guy) is making me question my feelings for Steven.

dairy34

Annnd I’m back with Daxton. Enough time has passed that we’re now making out at dances. The first time around, we probably just played in the sandbox.

diary35

Oh hey, Travis. When did you get here? Have you met, Ricky?

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I think kids who call people and chomp ice as their prank are totally mature enough to juggle a dozen loves in a few years.

I hope my diary was a way for me to work out all this angst and longing in a safe place—and that away from this time of reflection each night, I was out having fun and not drooling nonstop over these dudes. I have exponentially more memories of friends and laughter, than yearning and solitude, so I guess it was just an outlet I enjoyed. I must have, because I have stacks of journals from most of my life.

You should look back at your old stuff. Hopefully you’ll get some good news about your past ways, and not be confronted by the surprise news that the journal of your youth was actually a little black book housing enough names to field a pee wee football team.

The bad news? I only shared a fraction of the journal—and professions of love. The good news? Spelling is no longer my undoing.

Please join me on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

Old School Parenting Prowess

My parents were extraordinary. They still are.

They were ahead of their time in so many ways.

Sure, we sat—or stood—anywhere in the car we wanted, but whatever, they got so many things right. They got them right without the luxury or convenience of the internet and a million how-tos at their fingertips.

1. My mom didn’t need an army of mommy bloggers to figure it out.

My mom stayed at home with all three of us—before going back to get her college degree and embark on a 25-year teaching career—without blogging about it or reading blogs about it. GASP! How did she make it through the school drop-off line or traverse the competitive world of child-rearing without the virtual company of 8 trillion mommy bloggers by her side? How did any of our milestones mean anything when they couldn’t be shared on Instagram or posted on Facebook? We’ll never know. But she did it like a B.O.S.S.

hairflip

2. They believed in lessons.

We got dropped off at the skating rink on weekend nights and picked up at midnight. One time when I was around 10 or 11, I had my brand new Nike kicks stolen from my locker. They were gone, period. End of story. Yes, my mom felt bad for me, but again they were gone. It sucked, but to my parents, the theft didn’t equate to a replacement pair, it equated to me learning to be more vigilant about prized possessions. You better believe I started double-checking the padlock after that.

Yes, my Nikes are gone, people.

Yes, Emma—MY NIKES ARE GONE.

3. My mom ROCKED nightly home-cooked meals—for well over a decade.

We also ate dinner at home every night. Yes, up until high school, the five of us ate my mom’s home-cooked meals, around the kitchen table, every night. I can’t imagine how she pulled it off—that many meals, that many years—but she did. I’m sure one thing that made it possible was that she (logically) cooked one meal, and we ate it. Up until my freshman year, I have only a few memories of dinner anywhere but our kitchen table. I also have next-to-no memories of bumming out over the meal put in front of me.

It was also really, REALLY good.

It was also really, REALLY good.

Well, there was that one night when my dad was exceptionally cranky and put down the edict that he was “the father of this family” and he’d “by-damn get the piece of fried chicken” he wanted. I believe it was a thigh, which now makes me wonder what the fuss was about. Who was putting up a fight over a thigh? It was super fine by me. We also always had a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s bread on the table—a far stretch from the artisan breads of today, but I loved it. My favorite thing (after watching my dad do this) was capping off supper with a scoop of mashed potatoes in a single folded up slice of bread—a mashed potato sandwich dessert if you will. Heaven!

Now, at restaurants, when the waiter says, “Did you save room for dessert? Maybe some flan or a sopapilla or cheesecake?” I’m just thinking, “Please say mashed potato sandwich, please say mashed potato sandwich.” I’m still waiting on that offering.

Side Note: My dad and I used to love to eat gross things, too. Pickled pigs feet, sardines in the can—we relished every moment of grossing out those around us. We still do.

Another Side Note That Deserves Its Own Post: My mom is the world’s best cook. This is not up for discussion. I’d pick one of her home-cooked meals over any food, any where. I got my love of cooking from her, and I consider it one of the greatest gifts.

And with food. Lots of food.

And with food. Lots of food.

4. They took responsibility for teaching us about God.

We didn’t really grow up in church, we sorta just had church at home. As kids of praying, steadfast believing parents, we learned all the important things that we still hold dear today.

But one awful night (I don’t remember what led to this), my parents told me—what I considered at the time—a huge lie. They said I should always put God before them, and … wait for the shocking news … love God more than I loved them. I felt like someone slapped me across my precious face. I’d never been so upset with them.

This emoji best depicts my emotion on that dark day.

This emoji best depicts my emotion on that dark day.

As a little kid whose life still revolved around her parents, this made ZERO sense to me, and I wanted NO PART of it—not because I didn’t love God (I so did), but because my parents were my world. I devised a plan to disobey them, because it was simply something I could. not. would. not. do. I knew in my heart they’d gotten it all wrong. I almost felt bad for their misinterpretation of God’s will.

ALMOST—I was too disappointed in their careless mandate to empathize with them.

I knew that the God I trusted would never want to me to love Him more than my parents, so I decided I’d go along with them outwardly, nodding like it made perfect sense, but continue loving them #1 in my heart.

Fortunately, nothing bad came from my disobedience, and no one ever tested me. In my head, my defiance looked like this: choosing teams for dodge ball and picking my mom and dad over God—and then immediately getting struck in the head with lightning and my gravestone reading, “You picked the wrong rule to break.”

Side Note: I, of course, understand all of this now—but as a very little kid, I was appalled by my blasphemous, lying parents. I even remember where we were standing when they told me the lies. I also remember throwing myself face down on my pillow to cry it out—vowing in my heart I’d never love anyone more than my parents. This was, of course, before I laid eyes on Ricky Schroder.

I’d now like to lighten the mood by telling you that on our summer vacations, they’d make us virgin Tom Collins.

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5. We had wonderful traditions.

Speaking of vacations (and life in general), my mom was, and still is, the best of the best at creating traditions for our family. Her fingerprint is on everything that is real and wonderful about my family.

One of my favorite traditions growing up was our summer vacation down to Corpus Christi. The five of us would road trip (although when I was little, that didn’t have a name—it was just how you traveled) to Corpus. We’d leave in the wee hours of the morning and the kiddos would sleep in the car—all over the car. Floorboard, back window, across our parents laps. They probably would’ve let us sleep in the trunk if we’d asked. I doubt it, but I have nothing to base that doubt on.

Here was where the swoon came in. We’d start stirring in the late morning and wake up so happy when we saw we were well on our way—and then the realization that we were hungry would kick in, and we’d all start looking for a river bank or cool area for our lunch spot. My mom would break out the cooler of cold fried chicken, cheese, bread, pickles and bottled Coke. Nothing has EVER tasted so good in my life.

Then we’d crawl back into the car and play with our handheld games.

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Side Note: I’m not gonna get on a soapbox about everything today’s kids “need” to “survive” a road trip—or the monsters we’re creating—I’m just going to say that I’m thankful beyond thankful that I grew up when I did, and learned how to entertain myself and just be happily alone in my thoughts.

We’d drive and drive, listening to The Beatles. We had a stack of 8-tracks in heavy rotation and it was pure bliss. No, I never did understand some of their lyrics (why is he a walrus? why is Lucy in the sky? Why’d Joe Joe think he was a woman?) but I never once tired of the music we grew up with.

Everything about our summer vacations to Corpus has stayed with me. The music, the stops for beef jerky and pickles, feeding the seagulls, looking for “butterfly” seashells to present to my mom as my promise of everlasting love.

I love you, Moma <3

I love you, Moma ❤

6. My dad guided us early and swiftly.

Me: Bye!
Daddy: Bye.
Me: See ya later, alligator!
Daddy: See ya later, alligator.
Me: After a while, crocodile!
Daddy: After a while crocodile.
Me: Soon, raccoon!
Daddy: No, Ma’am. I don’t want you saying that.
Me: Why?!
Daddy: Because it could be construed as racist slang and I won’t have you saying it. Alligators and crocodiles are plenty enough.

And that was that. I didn’t fully understand until he explained it further; but I knew not to ever say it again and knew why.

7. Their worth wasn’t tied to my athletic performance.

From the moment I set my eyes on the game of basketball, I was hooked. And one second after that realization, my parents found a way for it to be part of my life. They got me an outdoor hoop and they made arrangements for us to go play at a nearby community college gym.

I played all the time—every day and night, I shot baskets and played. That was all wonderful, but when they were truly ahead of their time was when I was on real teams. Never once, EVER, in a zillion games, did they ever show anger or disappointment in me. They were not those parents. This wasn’t as surprising coming from my mom—I think moms are naturally nurturing—but it was definitely more uncommon for dads to show nothing but support. And my dad was not a sugar-coating kind of guy. He was a “call it what it is” man. Yet, there he was, game after game with his arm around me—and a proud look on his face.

I have memory after memory of nothing but love and comfort after games, while nearby, I could hear snippets from disgusted, disappointed, furious parents railing on their kid. Don’t get me wrong, mine didn’t celebrate poor performances by any stretch—they just opted (way ahead of their time) to not take that route with me. Maybe it was because they knew I was extremely hard on myself and needed ZERO assistance in that department—I don’t know—but not ONCE? Not one chewing out session? Pretty impressive. I do know their worth wasn’t tied to my performance or success like seems to be the case so often these days … and that right there also puts them well ahead of their time.

No one but me can really know what their support did for me, or how it molded me—but it was a true and lasting gift. I can only imagine the damaging effect the opposite type of behavior has on kids. I’m glad I don’t know this firsthand.

nothankyou

8. They couldn’t care less about attachment parenting.

My parents gave us the perfect amount of “attachment parenting” vs. “cry-it-out.” In fact, one time I got my whole foot stuck in my bike spokes and my dad not only did NOT comfort me, but he was actually pretty mad about whatever carelessness led to my ankle being wrapped up in my wheel.

We consistently took off on our bikes, never to return until dusk—riding on hills and through terrain not cleared for children on Huffy bikes.

I have memories of taking off on foot or on the back of a bike of neighborhood friends and not seeing my parents for hours on end. Maybe whole days would pass—who knows?! I’m sure that’s wrong, but maybe my dad was OK with some suspect overnights if it meant peacefully getting the piece of chicken he wanted after a hard day at work?

9. They accepted life and its (occasional) unfair outcomes with grace.

In my preteen years, I used to compete in these “Hoop Shoot” contests. We’d basically shoot 25 free throws, within age brackets, and the winner would move on to sectionals, regionals and state. I won a lot of them and collected lots of cool trophies. People made a big deal about it because I was quite a little nugget and shot a men’s basketball (not the women’s size they have today) … and I was one of very few who actually shot it correctly, and not a granny shot.

Side Note: I was wholly unamused by the kids shooting granny shots. I cringed for them and wanted to point out how utterly embarrassing it was to be a nine-year old, still acting like a toddler. Come on—shoot the dang ball or go home and play with Barbie and Ken.

Anyway, one year I won the round that would take me to the big regional shootout—but found out a short while later, that I’d been placed in the wrong age bracket. I was disqualified. Nothing could be done. There were no do-overs or shuffling of winners.

While my parents and I were incredulous as we discussed the situation—and as it sunk in that it was just over for the year—no one threw a fit. I felt extremely disappointed, but nothing beyond that crossed my mind. My parents didn’t come unglued or “demand” anything of the sponsor. We all just kind of accepted the suckage of the situation.

They didn’t take me to Disneyland, in place of State, to soothe my disappointment. I might have gotten a Slurpee, but that was about it. What did happen was I kept practicing and I made it to State the following year. They even flew my whole family to the shootout in Austin.

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10. They were the parents.

When we were growing up, directives like, “clean up your room,” “be home by dusk,” “put on your shoes” weren’t suggestions. They were orders that we obeyed, and when we didn’t, there were consequences. When we refused to do as we were told, there wasn’t some absurd discussion about it, like, “Why didn’t you mind me? Annnnnnna, didn’t I tell you to get dressed? Why didn’t you get dressed? Why are you disobeying me? Sigh, okay, go play.”

Oh. Hell. No. We didn’t engage in the bargaining and negotiating that’s so prevalent today. There was a very distinct line between the parents and kids—not the excruciatingly blurred lines of today. THANK GOODNESS.

And yes, we were spanked. With a hand, with a belt, with a ping-pong paddle and quite embarrassingly, with a flip-flop outside of Dairy Queen … for my “smart alec mouth.” So here’s the thing, we weren’t perfect kids. We absolutely disobeyed—but there were consequences for it.

If I got a lick at school, I got a lick at home. I didn’t get my mom rushing up to the school to question why I got in trouble for what I did—I just got in double trouble at home. This was a known and understood rule among pretty much all the kids we were in school with. And the truth is, I only got one lick during my school years, and it was for something quite benign … I ran from the back of the classroom to my seat in the front. But guess what? I got a lick and then got spanked at home.

And I didn’t run in class again.

True story—with each passing day, I’m more and more blown away by the job my parents did raising us. I read so many articles and blog posts about parenting and I just marvel at the fact that they did it without much help at all. I love that fact that they were ahead of their time in so many ways—and I hope, hope, hope we were fun kids to raise. I know I was pretty easy, because, as the third child, I put myself down for naps and changed my own diapers—but that’s a story for another day.

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Parental Guidance Suggested

I’m extraordinarily thankful for growing up when I did.

My two siblings and I—very close in age—played outside like it was our j.o.b. The three of us, along with our neighborhood friends, ran amok nearly every day, until that moment between dusk and dark, when my mom stepped onto the front porch and yelled, “Kids! Time to come in!”

I blew through the front door nearly every night an itchy, twitchy, grassy mess. Football was the number one culprit. “Two-below” somehow always turned into tackle (I also dove for passes and fumble recoveries more often than necessary.) Freeze Tag also required a good deal of grass time, as freeing my teammates involved frantically crawling under their legs. Add in popular staples like Hide and Seek and Red Rover and well, bath time was non-negotiable.

Side Note: Red Rover was not my friend. I never found a way to even marginally succeed at this unjust game. I was fast, but I was a twig. In hindsight, I probably could have been better than I was by just looking more enthused and confident when my name was called. As it was, this: “Red Rover! Red Rover! Let Anna come over!!” … led to this:

dejected

I’m not going to claim we were geniuses who could make a lasting game out of leaves and rocks, but we definitely went through some memorable phases. Many of them could be categorized as: Ways In Which Our Parents Allowed Us To Almost Die.

Trampoline:
So yeah, we grew up with a trampoline. We had the kind pretty much no one has today—in that it was above ground (and on a somewhat un-level yard), had no padded bumper and had what was called an “Olympic mat.” This meant it was solid white and void of the little holes the black mesh mats had. In layman’s terms, it could blast you to the sky.

My dad taught all three of us how to do an array of flips and tricks. We were actually pretty good. The benefits of a trampoline were innumerable: fitness, body control, conquering fears. I’m thankful my parents looked past the multitude of dangers in allowing small children free reign of a death device.

dwight false

My brother came precariously close to ruining the whole gig one day when, due to hapless timing on his part, he soared over my mom’s head as she stepped onto the front porch. He was jumping off the roof and onto the trampoline with his hooligan friends. Now that I think about it, why DIDN’T it ruin the whole gig for us?

The trampoline wasn’t always used in its intended way—but those were, hands-down, some of my best childhood memories. I’m not sure how this ever got parental clearance, but we’d hose down the mat with water and squeeze liquid Ivory soap on it for our very own neighborhood X-Games. Liquid soap, People! Liquid soap on a solid, non-draining mat. I’m sorry, WHAT?? No really, WHAT?! Anyway, thank you Dear Parents for being out of your ever-loving minds.

Our Lasso Phase:
Those may be three words you’ve never seen together. I’m not sure how it started, but we became obsessed with lassoing things—bedposts, doorknobs, each other. You might liken the shelf life for such a phase to that of organic bananas, but you’d be wrong. The time it took to perfect our instrument and master the Honda knot, coupled with the near-impossibility of successfully lassoing a DOORKNOB proved to be overwhelmingly difficult. For kids who had never expressed interest in ranching or been to a rodeo, we sure stayed committed longer than seemed logical.

Bruce Lee Phase:
This phase was most fully embraced by my brother and me.

Side Note: My sister hadn’t felt it was necessary to bother herself with karate techniques because she’d already defended my honor by putting a big time ass-whoopin’ on the scrappy neighbor boy who called me a “Honky.”

Anyway, my brother and I lived for watching Bruce Lee movies and then spending countless hours practicing moves. Mostly, we divided our time between two prominent activities: learning how to fall like stuntmen and using nunchucks as weapons.

credit: karatemart.com

ours were a little less fancy

Side Note: We actually didn’t use them as weapons. It was more akin to performing with a baton.

My brother thought it was gravely important to learn how to jump off things and land without breaking any bones. He insisted that it was possible to leap from great heights (his dresser) and, in one smooth move, hit, drop, roll and bounce back up—nary missing a beat nor registering the impact.

Since there was no way to substantiate his assertions with Google, I let repetition, practice and blind trust be my guide. I stand before you today, alive, to tell you that his beliefs were true from dresser height and abjectly false from atop the swing set.

Our nunchuck phase is something I look back on with substantially more shock than the trampoline. My dad even helped us make them—with dowels (i.e. broomsticks), eyebolts and chains. I will admit that we got very good at using them, but the speed with which we swung them around our face and cranium should have been cause for extreme alarm by our parents. My dad wouldn’t allow us to watch “Grease” but please, by all means, enjoy a near-death experience with your brother.

I remember falling to my knees in excruciating pain numerous times when I’d smack my own elbow. Would my dad take them away? Nope. He’d just “tighten things up” so they wouldn’t swing as freely. Thanks Legal Guardian.

Dirt Bike Phase:
My sister and I wanted no part of girly bikes. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t mind pink and we did adore the lovely shiny streamers—because we’re ladies—but they had to be dirt bikes. We rode the living daylights out of them with my brother and our neighborhood friends. We rode and rode and rode all over our streets and alley, but also on the hills and trails behind our house. Our Huffy bikes provided endless entertainment, adventure and exercise—as well as the perfect opportunity to sow our recklessness oats.

Side Note: I didn’t own reckless oats.

My sister was a fearless lunatic, so she was better than I was at popping wheelies. Oh, I could POP a wheelie, but she could RIDE a wheelie … all the way down the street while popping huge Bubble Yum bubbles. I watched from behind her in horror, imagining she’d pull back too hard or pass over a loose rock and take a layer of skin off her back. Although I was younger, I worried for her safety like a parent should, often cautioning her about the dangers of living on the edge.

Of course, we all made it out in one piece. I don’t know what made my parents courageous enough to let us loose—allowing us to explore and play—not being deterred by occasional accidents and minor injuries. But whatever it was, I’m so grateful. I wouldn’t change a single thing about when, where and how I grew up.

Oh, except being relegated to sleeping in the back dash of the car on vacations, just because I was the youngest. What’s that you say? No seat belt up there? Not very safe? Yes, yes—I know.

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Thou Shalt Not Covet

When it comes to good things happening for others, I’m just not the jealous type. I believe there is enough happiness and success to go around—and I enjoy rooting for people.

But, as a child, I do remember coveting one thing. Speed skates.

Growing up in a small town, it was not uncommon to spend one or two nights every weekend at the skating rink.

I was a pretty fast skater and rarely hesitated to step up to the line—when they paused whatever Rick James song they were playing—and announced racing heats. But try as I might, I never won my heat if it included kids from the Speed Skating Team.

I never considered—even for a second—that they were just faster. I knew in the deepest part of my gut that they won races because of one thing: Those Bad.To.The.Bone. speed skates.

heaven on wheels

heaven on wheels

The low profile ankle, the wide wheels, the low, flat stopper. Swoon.

I loved those types of skates with a fervor unmatched by anything under the sun. They not only looked incredible, but they were more stable than the high-sitting tan-colored abominations I rented from the desk—the jokes with the wheel bearings that hadn’t been lubricated for 91 years. The ones with the jacked up stoppers that were different heights from the right to the left—something a true speed skater would never accept.

look at this disaster

look at this disaster

Didn’t my parents know I needed proper gear to be a true speed skater? I guess not, because it wasn’t happening. They were expensive. And much to my surprise, we weren’t rolling in the dough.

I had no idea. My brother and sister and I thought we were rich. My parents provided for us in a way that left me confused about our wealth. But even at that, somehow, speed skates hadn’t made the list of immediate needs. Weirdly enough, soap and pork chops always came first.

Had my intense longing gone unnoticed? Had my older siblings’ oscillating interests schooled them to the temporary longings of my heart—training them to adeptly turn a blind eye to my yearning? I see no conceivable way they’d have had the foresight to know my living wouldn’t be made by speed skating.

I remember asking my mom if we could at least go look at some and price them out. I told her I’d never wanted anything more and could not fathom a complete existence apart from them.

Side Note: I can neither confirm nor deny that this was around the time I was voluntarily wearing ankle weights to meet my fitness goals. My attempts to build what I considered acceptable quad muscles for 12-yr old were, of course, thwarted by my supposedly-not-wealthy, see-into-the-future parents.

I felt I was being held back in my attempts to be more than the Saturday night limbo champ. Sure, I could limbo lower than anyone else at the skating rink. I’d hear people coo and squeal when I shrunk to the size of a baby panda on my way under the bar. But my expert limbo skills were simply a product of my size and natural ability to balance on 8 wheels. In my mind, it wasn’t a bonafide talent, so I didn’t deserve the accolades.

I wanted to race.

I wanted to run my bony little fingers along the rink as I went into the turn. I wanted to cross the finish line first and be going so fast that I could coast an entire victory lap without any effort, besides what it took to wave to my fans.

And even though I knew my full potential could not be realized in rented skates, I had to let my dream die. I entered fewer races, because I simply could not abide 2nd or 3rd place when it was no fault of my own. Occasionally I still raced just so the breeze could cool me off before the DJ announced “Couple Skate” and spun an intense Chicago love song.

My young boyfriend, Brandon West (same last name, but not related—it’s not that small of a town) would roll up to me with his hand out and I’d take a few laps with one eye on his sweet baby blues and one eye on his rad speed skates.

And as I belted out Hard Habit To Break in my head, it was unclear if I was thinking of Brandon or how to pick up the pieces of my wrecked speed skating dreams.

Do you know how many races I’d have won in these? Spoiler alert: ALL OF THEM.

Do you know how many races I’d have won in these? Spoiler alert: ALL OF THEM.

I already know my mom’s going to read this in Emmy-worthy mock-shock, feigning ignorance and swearing she had no clue about the depths of my obsession. She’ll say, “What? When was this? All you ever seemed to care about was snack money and the limbo! Sweetheart, if we’d only known, we’d have gotten them for you!” And to this, some (cough-cough) x-number of years later, I say, “Well-played, Mother, well-played.”

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Bedtime Stories

My sister and I shared a bedroom from day one. A lot of people wince in response to that bit of information—but not us. We certainly had our issues during daylight hours, wearing out phrases like, “I’m telling!” and “That’s MY Tiger Beat!” and “Stop breathing on me!”, but once it was bedtime, it was like being at camp with no supervision.

already sharing secrets

already sharing secrets

We’d talk about everything from what we’d name triplets to how tight we should wear our Gloria Vanderbilts (spoiler alert: unspeakably tight). For a short while, we had separate twin beds situated on opposite sides of the room, and we’d play a game where one of us would reveal a secret on a cassette recorder and crawl over in the dark to deliver it. The other would press play, hear the deep-dark, then record both a response and a secret of her own, before making the return delivery.

When it was my turn, I’d pull the covers over my head and get my mouth as close to the speaker as I could—using my most discreet inside voice. I’d feel my way over to her bed and make the transfer. By the time I’d rush back to dive under my covers, she’d be blessed with this gem, “I think I’m in love with Paul McCartney.”

I’d wait anxiously, not being able to stand the suspense of hearing her response to my secret and what juicy tidbit she’d divulge back to me. Had she kissed Blaine? Was she the culprit who slugged back Daddy’s last Coke? Had she really passed her algebra test?

In this particular instance, I was quite perturbed that she “already knew about” my infatuation with one quarter of the Fab Four. How she could have allowed me to traverse the murky waters of celebrity obsession alone all those months is something I’ll never understand. Not to mention the difficulties Paul and I would face in dealing with the stigma of our disparate ages.

she's holding me tight!

she’s holding me tight!

Another time when we were relegated to twin beds—and this is why I believe them NOT to be all they’re cracked up to be—we were talking with animated British accents, pretending to be royalty. “The princess is pooting! The precious princess is pooting! The precious princess is pooting in the palace! The precious princess is pooting in the prince’s palace!”

Our squirreliness escalated to the point of trouble and my mom took away my beloved tape recorder. Not a big deal, you say? Wrong. I’d recorded myself spelling over a hundred practice words to get ready for the big spelling bee the next day. I’d read something about “sleep learning” and my plan had been to fall asleep to my voice reciting words like c-o-n-j-e-c-t-u-r-e. I’m convinced this thwarted plan is what yielded me 18th place. There were 25 participants.

As a whole, I believe things were better for us when we shared a bed. Particularly our king-sized waterbed. We got in less trouble because we could whisper and talk for longer periods of time without getting out of control. We did, of course, still get overly giggly and loud until we’d hear, “GIRLS!!” That dreaded word was surpassed only by its accompanying dreaded tone—an unnerving bark that jolted us back to whispers and compelled us to proceed with greater caution.

As we got a little older, we settled into a nightly routine of talking, mostly quietly, until we fell asleep. It was pretty balanced, as far as who talked the most and who fell asleep quickest. What was not as noticeably even was how we felt about drifting away from the conversation and into dreamland.

It pained me to no end to feel the loopies coming on and know I was fading at an alarming rate, just as she was getting into the meat of her story. I would fight with all my might to hang on until the end—until I could hear the final talking point—all the while making audible, active listening sounds and affirmations. However, more than a few times, when I was well into a life-changing story (whatever that means for an eleven year old) I would wrap up and realize she was sound asleep. I’d scan my brain to figure out what the last thing she heard was, so I could finish it up the next night. All in all, we did really well and loved talking every night.

Then, we found our voice.

However, what started off as an agreed-upon duet session, with shared vocal responsibilities, segued into me consistently being assigned lead male vocal. And soon after, for reasons I don’t recall, I was handling the parts of both singers. That made harmony really tough. You and I by Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle is a beautiful love song. It’s a lot less moving when a 12-year old girl is Eddie. Endless Love might be one of the greatest love songs of the century, but when, as a preteen, you are charged with managing both parts, I can tell you that the integrity of the song suffers.

Ask me to be Lionel Richie and the vocals are passable. Ask me to handle Diana Ross and you’ll get my best, albeit lacking, effort—as I had yet to perfect my vibrato. But expect me to be Lionel and Diana and your ear canals will not be amused. When I’d get to the power portion of the song, “Noooo one can deny, this looooove I have inside, and I’ll giiiiiiiive it all to you” and it was but one lone voice, willing itself to be two, it was a disaster in the making. Those were the times I was happy she fell asleep before the bridge.

I can’t complain. I quite enjoyed singing her to sleep. It’s one of my best memories growing up with my sister and sharing a room. The secretly borrowed clothes that were ruined pale in comparison to the trouble we got in, the talks we had, the games we played and the harmonies we shared.

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Crazy For You

I can’t flip through channels and see the San Francisco 49ers without thinking of him. I can’t even see any of their memorabilia because the colors alone take me back. Starting in 7th grade, my entire existence revolved around Coach Scott McCahon and his red and khaki Ford Bronco.

Why his Bronco? Simple—where it was, he was. Why did I love this mustached man? Only the Good Lord knows. But if I had a nickel for every time I mentally slow danced to Madonna’s Crazy For You with him, I could own a small island in the Maldives. With a chef. And an island boy who fanned me and kept me hydrated with top shelf mojitos.

Who knows why young love is so fierce and undying? It’s also a little blind and nauseating—I now realize—as I flip through my journal and read page after mortifying page about each of our “encounters”. I use that term incredibly loosely, as a typical reaching-for-my-journal-interaction would include brief eye contact and a “Hello” or “Hi” of some sort. He was clearly not spending his days and nights lamenting the cards we were dealt and wishing we could be together. I bet he didn’t even test drive my name with his last name in his head.

That aside, I thought he was beautiful—or “SO FINE” my tween self declared. He was lanky and fit and taught history. I’m also sure he was brilliant. Of course he was—he was a football coach who taught history. Hello.

The best part of the crush, aside from occasionally getting to see him in jeans (Wranglers, no less), was that one of my best friends lived two houses away from him. Knowing I was getting to spend the night at Dusty Jordan’s was like looking forward to a trip to Disney World. I’d fixate on it for days on end, unable to concentrate on school in any way.

Looking back, it makes no sense that I’d get so excited about those sleep-overs. The absolute most that would happen is we’d see him driving up the hill in his Bronco—and get to wave. That’s it. My gosh, I was easy. We did attempt to pay him a visit or ten, but shockingly, he never answered the door. “He’s not home,” I’d turn and tell Dusty. “We just saw him pull in his driveway,” she’d reply. “Yeah. Well, he’s probably really caught up in working on next week’s lesson plans. He’s really devoted.”

The worst day I recall as a 7th grader was finding out he was moving to the high school to teach and coach. It was unfathomable that I could endure 8th grade without him. In all likelihood, you’re reading this and jovially thinking how cute that is. But no. When I say I was despondent, I mean, on the inside I was inconsolable. If I’d been able to speak of my love for him as it really felt—and not some truncated “he’s so cute!”—people would have suggested professional help. Ok, that just took an unnecessary dramatic turn. But at a minimum, they would have pointed me to the school counselor.

In fact, there were two particularly dramatic entries in my journal from that time. One is about the “horrindus” fight Dusty and I got in because she told me I was ridiculous about him. I don’t know if I’m more wounded over the memory of the fight or my poor spelling describing the gravity of the confrontation.

The second journal entry was about how Holly Holt was “probably my best friend” because we “really get each other” but that it might be time to reassess the situation, due to the fact that she “no longer loves him the way I do.” I actually wrote (and this is gross, so skip ahead if you have a weak love stomach), “I mean, all we ever do is make up fantasies about him! NOW WHAT WILL WE DO?!” I’m sure I flung myself face-first into my pillow after writing that last all-capped part.

You’ll be happy to know that I did survive my 8th grade year; but, not without the help of the few visits he paid the middle school each month to have lunch with his coaching buddies. I’d be in choir, barely carrying a tune, but feeling like Streisand, when I’d see from the corner of my eye, his red and khaki Bronco. I’d have to just start mouthing “w-a-t-e-r-m-e-l-o-n”—something we were taught to do if we forgot the words—because all my focus was gone, gone, gone. In my head was this very elaborate running commentary, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”

Would I get to see him and catch up on all the latest goings on? Nope. But my glimpse of him from the choir room and an extremely fortunate, “Hi!” as I passed by him later and got to smell his Polo cologne was all it took to fill me back up.

Speaking of said cologne, the aforementioned journal from those years contained a special page. As shown, I glued his picture in the corner and added some declarations. I finished it off the only way I knew how—with a couple of spritzes of Polo cologne. To this day, it’s retained its scent. I don’t know if that’s incredible or terrifying.

Once I got to high school, my crush remained strong. I think I was more at ease with it because I was able to see him regularly and not spend an inordinate amount of time lamenting the dreadful moments in between sightings. I pretty much knew where I could see him or “incidentally” pass him most moments of the day. We had fairly little contact, although when we did, he was decently nice. He clearly did not share my intense feelings of love—or even seem aware of my allure—but he was usually pleasant.

It wasn’t until I started seeing the types of girls who did get more of his attention that my love for him gradually began to wane. The same few upperclassmen would hang around his classroom or outside his door with him as he monitored traffic between bells. These girls were not athletes or in theater or even choir. They were the ones I’d labeled “extracurricular whorebags”. I know that’s harsh, but when you’re a scrawny tomboy who thinks of two things—basketball and slow dancing with Coach McCahon—the big breasted partiers with their Texas Aquanet bangs, hanging on his every word, really hits below the belt.

I’d lay in bed listening to Hard Habit To Break by Chicago and wonder why he’d be interested in girls whose chief talent was looking sexy and fake laughing at every boy’s joke. Wouldn’t that get old? I couldn’t figure out why their big breasts mattered so much. All they did was sit there, looking like the buoys at Lake Meredith. Wouldn’t it be more fun to play with me in the gym or throw around the football?

Of course, looking back, it all makes perfect sense. And I highly doubt he was truly interested in them, other than enjoying their girly laughs and consistent attention. Who doesn’t appreciate a little adoration? Also, it was best that these girls helped me move beyond my adolescent crush. At the rate I was going, who knows where I would have stopped? Shoe polishing “Anna McCahon” on his Bronco?

I even wonder where he is today or if he has any clue how many of us crushed him so hard. I have a feeling it would come as quite a shock. He might even be mortified to see a picture of the page I dedicated to him in my journal. What he would not experience is the knockout punch of decades-old Polo wafting off the aged page. You’re welcome, Coach McCahon—you’re welcome.

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