Loss and Christmas Music

The record player was kept in a wooden cupboard, which was adorned with family photos. It only came out for Christmas, not necessarily Christmas Day, but Christmas decorating.
Mario Lanza’s Christmas album was the perfect soundtrack to decorating my grandmother’s front room. I sat on the orange brown carpet and plugged in the ceramic light up Christmas tree, while Mario belted out, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”
I opened the box that contained the nativity scene, and the tiny plastic Santa driving his sleigh with connected reindeer. That one was my favorite. Baba smiled as I placed the sleigh and reindeer on the roof of the manger so Santa could bring gifts to the baby Jesus.
She sat on the stiff floral couch and listened to her favorite crooner as she supervised the placement of painted pine cones around the nativity scene. I asked what she wanted for her upcoming birthday.
“Oh, you don’t have to get me anything, honey,” she said, and we both knew I would get her tealight candles.
“Are you going to make fruitcake cookies this year?” I asked.
“Well, if that’s what everybody wants,” she said, and we both knew that she would.
Whenever I think of Baba at this time of year, I think of those Christmas decorations. I think of tealight candles and fruitcake cookies, and all the while Mario Lanza is singing in the background.
There is such comfort in the familiar, and music will always take you back. So if you can’t be with your loved ones this holiday season, put on a record (or pull up a You Tube) and find something to enjoy.

My Christmas Wish for my Son

May you always give thanks as genuinly as you do now.

May you never hear the phrase “elf on the shelf.”

May you learn reverence for God and the Christmas story.

May you learn tolerance and acceptance of all faiths.

May you remain impressed by our four-foot tall, fake, Christmas tree.

May you never outgrow making holiday cookies with me.

May you never watch another internet video of strangers opening toys.

May you always find joy in looking at Christmas lights.

May you some day enjoy a Christmas movie that lasts more than 20 minutes.

May you always delight in gift-giving.

May you always make time for family even when they live far away.

What Not to Say to a New Orleans Native (and What to Say Instead)

It’s been about 11 years since I moved away from my home town, and when I tell people I’m originally from New Orleans, I still get certain reactions. So for my non- NOLA friends, here’s some advice on what not to say when you meet a New Orleanian:

1)You don’t sound like you’re from Orleans. Why don’t you have an accent?

Most of us don’t have accents, and those of us who do, sound more like we’re from New Jersey than from the South. (Although even that is not an apt description.)

What you should say instead: Where ya at? How’s ya mama an’ ’em?

Whatever accent we do have will come out in response to these questions. To my New Orleanian friends, yes, I can hear your collective eye roll. You’re thinking, Oh puleeze, nobody really talks like that. The truth is … some of us kind of do. You just don’t realize it until you don’t hear it anymore, and then you miss it.

2) Have you ever been to the Mardi Gras?

I know the concept of Mardi Gras may be foreign to you, so it’s OK if you have questions, but just know this one thing: Mardi Gras is not a destination. Would you ask, Have you ever been to the Halloween? Much like Halloween, Mardi Gras is a holiday that involves dressing in costumes and getting free stuff. It’s also the most fun when you’re a little kid. (Really!)

What to say instead: What’s your favorite thing about the city?

This may bring up a conversation about Mardi Gras, but it will likely bring up something much more interesting.

3) Is the city back?

New Orleans didn’t actually go anywhere, but I know what you mean by this question. You are dancing around the K-word. Yes, the city went through some very dark days and is forever changed because of it. We really don’t want to talk about that anymore. If you want to know how New Orleans is doing, then plan a trip and see for yourself.

What to say instead: What’s your favorite place to eat?  

This will put an instant smile on the face of any New Oleanian, and will get you some useful recommendations for that trip.

4) Oh, so you’re Cajun!

Nope. See earlier blog post, Dear Floridians, for more information on this topic.

What to say instead: Oh, so you’re awesome! Yep. Because we are.

5) I went there once and hated it. I could never live there.

Excuse me while I take this dagger out of my back. As a native New Orleanian, this comment pains me. I can’t help but take it personaly, because the city of New Orleans is like a family member – a big loud, loving family member who wants to feed you and give you gifts and show you a good time. So when you say you had a bad time, you might as well say that you hate my grandmother. If you truly had a bad experience, it hurts my soul to hear that. New Orleanians desperately want you to have a good time and to love the city as much as we do. We want to make it right. We want you to give us another chance. Please!

What to say instead: Teach me to peel crawfish. Or Where’d you go to high school? Or Tell me about sno-balls. Or Let’s go get a drink. Or Let’s go out to eat. Or Show me how to make a roux…

Because just about anything is better than telling us you hate our maw-maw.

Matters Not So Small

I’ve thought long and hard about this post, because I normally abhor writing about politics. My objective is not to change anyone’s mind. I am not arrogant enough to think that I can. My objective is not to offend anyone. As much as I don’t want to care what people think, I do prefer to be liked. As with all my writing, my main objective is simply to quiet my own mind. Secondarily, I hope that someone else reads this and gets some level of enjoyment out of it.

So here goes… With all the political rants on facebook, I feel like the left and the right are constantly questioning why. Why would anyone vote for him / her? They must be … racist / liars / stupid / criminal / hypocritical / ignorant / duped by the media etc.

Sometimes those assumptions are true, but most of the time, I don’t believe they are. You know why so many decent Christians voted for Donald Trump? It’s because he said he was pro-life. For so many people that alone was enough. That may have been combined with hatred, but it’s the hatred of Hillary Clinton’s alleged criminal activities, the hatred of higher taxes, Obamacare and the “liberal media.”

Do you know why so many loving and honest people voted for Hillary Clinton? It’s because they are truly fearful of the racist sects that have galvanized behind Trump. However marginal these groups may be, no one can deny they are there. For many people, that alone was enough to vote for Clinton, though it’s likely combined with the hatred of Donald Trump’s alleged criminal activities, inappropriate comments and lack of experience.

I realize I am oversimplifying things a bit, because this is the internet. Abortion, racism, and hatred are not small matters, so I will not delve into them here. These are complex issues that can’t be solved with a meme (or a blog). They likely can’t be solved by our president either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make your little corner of the world a better place whenever you can.

And because everything in my life relates back to television, I will leave you with something lighter.

There is an old Saturday Night Live sketch that aired the week after Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of the pope on the show. Adam Sandler plays an audience member who stands up and says to ‘Sinead O’Connor’ (played by Jan Hooks) “Don’t you understand, we don’t want you to hate, we want you to love!”

I think of this phrase every time I scroll through my facebook newsfeed and see something obnoxiously hateful. So come on America! Find something to love!

Or don’t. Just be cool. Whatevs.

A Sometimes Parent

One thing experts agree on when it comes to parenting is that consistency is key, but I have a confession to make: I am a sometimes parent.

Sometimes my kid eats a balanced meal at the dinner table, complete with green leafy vegetables like broccoli or kale. Sometimes he gets a bowl of chips in front of the TV.

But of course he never watches more than 2 hours of television a day, except for those days when he watches 4 or 5.

Sometimes he spends almost the entire day in the backyard. He runs around picking dandelions, collecting rocks, throwing balls and chasing the dog, and I only check in for meal times and potty breaks, because I would never want to be a helicopter parent.

But sometimes I hover over him in his room, teaching him the right way to play with toys and draw with a pencil. I make sure he doesn’t break anything. I’d never want him to get hurt or feel neglected.

Sometimes I make sure he wears pants.

I breastfed until I bottlefed. I pumped until the pump broke. I formula fed until I was broke. I bought jarred babyfood,  and sometimes made my own.

I always placed my baby in his crib to sleep, except for the times I brought him in bed to sleep with me.

Sometimes I bribe. Sometimes I punish. Sometimes I ignore. I absolutely never, ever give in to tantrums, except for when I do.

I always acknowledge feelings and kiss boo boos and model empathy, except for the times I lose my patience and tell the kid to suck it up.

The one thing I’ve learned in my short time as a mom is that there is no such thing as a parenting expert.

You can get a degree in child psychology. You can get a degree in early childhood education. You can become a pediatrician. So you may be an expert in psychology, teaching, or pediatric medicine. Last I checked, there is no PhD in parenting.

Even the parent of ten children is only an expert on those ten children, and I guarantee you, even that tenth child was full of surprises.

Before I had a kid, I was as prepared as I possibly could have been. I read blogs and articles, took classes, babysat and talked to other parents. I even read an entire book on potty training before I ever got pregnant. (Now I could write my own: How to Potty Train in One Easy Year!)

I’ve still got a long way to go on this journey, but I’ve learned that you can’t know everything. You can’t do everything right all the time.

There is only one absolute. I always love my son, all of the time – no exceptions. I only hope it’s enough.

Confessions of a Former Babysitter

When I was a teenager, I babysat a lot, and I used to think I was pretty good at it. I never put a child in harms way, and the kids generally liked me. Now that I’m an adult with a child of my own, however, I realize I would never hire my teenage self as a babysitter. I was much too lazy and paid little attention to parental rules. Now, to the parents of those children I used to babysit, there are a few things I’d like to get off my chest:

  1. I had no respect for your bedtimes. Remember when I told you your son went to bed a little after nine? It was actually 11:15. Back then, I didnt think it mattered, but now I know that kids who stay up late dont necessarily sleep in the next morning. They wake up as early as ever, just a whole lot crankier, and so do the parents who stayed out past 11:15. I’m sorry I did that to you.
  2. I ate most of the pizza. You probably already knew this one, especially when it was just me and the four-year-old. When it came to pizza, she was a light-weight, but I do feel a little bad about not saving you any. I now know how satisfying cold pizza can be for breakfast after a night out, especially when you’re also trying to feed a cranky kid who stayed up too late the night before.
  3. I let the kids watch bad TV. Look, most of the time, the children and I were all perfectly content watching a Mighty Ducks marathon, or even one of those Nickelodeon shows with terrible acting, but there was this one time … It started out innocently enough. Your boys wanted to watch Beavis and Butthead. Of course, I said no. I really did, but then that friend of theirs who was spending the night got hold of the remote. (A heads up about him would’ve been nice by the way.) Well, this kid changed the channel to something even worse than the MTV duo … much worse. Frankly, I was shocked you even got that channel. So I wrestled the remote away and we landed back on Beavis and Butthead instead of “naked ladies in the land of sex,” as one of the boys so eloquently put it. It’s only now that I realize I got played. Beavis and Butthead was what they had wanted to watch all along. So I’m sorry if there was an uptick in words like “sucks” and “bunghole” in your household that week.
  4. I let them listen to bad music… the kind that comes with a warning label. Like the bad TV, this was not a regular occurrence. It was a one-time thing that I immediately regretted. In my defense, I did not give your 11-year-old the Eminem tape. He told me he got it from a friend, and he was dying to listen to it, and he just happened to already know all the lyrics to Slim Shady. His eight-year-old sister, however… I’m pretty sure it was a first for her. I’m sorry, Mama. I never meant to hurt you.
  5. I didn’t play with your kids. They asked me to jump on the trampoline, to play kickball, to play hide and seek. I did none of those things. “You go ahead, and I’ll watch,” became my mantra (And rarely did I even watch.) But hey! That’s actually a good thing, right? I was teaching them to be free range! You wouldn’t want a helicopter babysitter, would you? On second thought, yeah, you probably would. That’s kind of the point of a babysitter, isn’t it?

At least I can say with certainty, it will never happen again.

Let the Good Times Roll

What does a veggie tray say about me? I asked myself this question at the grocery store as I contemplated what I should bring to a “ladies’ get together.”

I decided it says I’m boring and lazy, and that’s not the message I want to send when trying to meet new people. As Homer Simpson once said, “You don’t win friends with salad.”

So I considered a bottle of wine. Was that too pretentious? Would beer be too low brow? Why was I stressing over this? Why did I even want to attend this event where I would not know one single person? I’m an introvert. Why did I suddenly care about making friends? After living in Raleigh a year, I guess it was about time.

I decided on premixed cans of strawberry margarita. Because no one likes veggie-tray girl, but everyone likes strawberry-rita girl.

I hauled my cart to the checkout counter and the cashier hit me with, “I can’t sell that to you before noon.”

Really, Raleigh? I thought I had left that nonsense in Florida. Of course, it was actually the lax liquor laws of New Orleans I left behind almost 11 years ago.

So I went home without the ‘ritas or the veggie tray. I knew I had enough time to go back to the store after noon, but I also knew that I wouldn’t. Instead, I decided to take the bag of veggie straws I had originally purchased as a “healthy” snack for my toddler. Now that says boring and lazy. I told myself I didn’t want to be friends with anyone who would judge me for my snack choice anyway.

So I spent the next two hours deciding what to wear. I probably hadn’t put that much thought into an outfit since I was 19 – when the look I was going for was “hot without trying.” There are a few differences between now and then. For one, the look this time around would be “smart casual.” That’s an actual fasion term, folks. Google it.

For another, I can search the internet for “what to wear to a casual ladies get together.” (The answer is a blouse with jeans for the “smart casual” look.)

But the biggest difference between then and now is that I have a two year old who interupts every two minutes to ask “Mommy, what are you doing?” And so I tried on only two outfits instead of 40.

Wearing minimal makeup, and with veggie straws in hand, I arrived on the hostess’ front porch. I briefly fantasized that there would be a crawfish boil on the other side of the door.

Instead, I was met with homemade margaritas and noticed a poster of my home town on the wall. … I think I’m gonna like it here.