Friday, June 27, 2008

Rock n' Roll

Rock n' Roll

There we were at Becky and Caleb's place. Rocky was sprawled out on a blanket enjoying some "tummy time" which is recommended by all pediatricians. Becky and I were looking at the Chile's take out menu when the incident happened.
We had decided to get together to use the gift cards that we got for Christmas. I couldn't decide what to order until Caleb insisted that the best thing on the menu was the Monteray Chicken. Becky and I believed him and the three of us all finally committed to the chicken. Brandon, always the individual, spent a few more minutes examining the menu and chose the Mushroom and Swiss Burger.

I spotted a box of Mike N' Ikes in the pantry and walked over to help myself to them. All of a sudden Becky let out a squeal. "Did she do that by herself or did you flip her over?" she asked me. I looked down and my baby was lying on her back. She looked really cute because she was wearing a long nightgown that Jill had bought for her at Savers. It was the only thing skinny enough to really fit Rocky's long torso. She was just kicking it there on her back with a face that seemed to wonder why we were staring at her. Like true scientists, we flipped her back onto her tummy to see if we could reproduce the results. This time Becky had her camera phone out and this is what happened.

This time we were watching. The cheering reminded me of a couple of months ago when we were in the same room watching the Giants beat the Patriots in the Superbowl. Caleb didn't jump out of his chair this time though, because he was busy calling in our order.
We flipped her again four times and every time she rolled right back over.

I know that this incident is very small in the spectrum of the entire world, but it was a very interesting moment for me.

I have always known that I wanted to have kids, but I never knew if I would be the maternal type. I liked playing with my nieces and nephews but I don't really spend much time holding babies. Before we had Rocky, I hadn't changed a diaper for about 10 years.

When she was born I was immediately smitten with her. Brandon and I were thrilled with all of the funny faces and sounds that she would make. We spent hours just watching her and giggling like a couple of 7th graders (trust me I spent all last year with them). For example, I watched this video about 500 times.

Being entertained by my baby is something I am already very used to at this point, but when she rolled over, it was an entirely new thing. I was awestruck.

We had a nice time that evening. Caleb was right and the chicken was awesome. Brandon and I split our meals half-and-half and the Mushroom Swiss didn't stand up. Plus, the chicken came with mashed potatoes and broccoli, two of my favorite things. We ate outside at a park and then went back home to watch Arrested Development. I loved the food and I laughed a lot at the show, but my mind kept going back to the baby's big moment.

On the way home Brandon was trying to listen to a song and I just kept interrupting to talk about how neat it was when Rocky rolled over. I think I was driving him crazy, but it filled my mind. I was giddy and excited and I wanted to go home and look at the video on the computer again and again.

Man, this mom thing has hit me harder than I ever would have imagined. I'm just as sappy as all the people that annyed me when I was kidless.

By the way, Rocky hasn't rolled again since. She was just teasing us.

LONG stories

I decided that I would use this blog to work on my writing. Instead of just having short blurbs all the time I want to use the space to really write. I've been nervous about what to have for my first entry so I went ahead and added a couple of personal essays I wrote in my writing class.

For the cute pictures of Rocky and the update on our day-to-day lives Brandon and I will have a family blog which will probably be more interesting.

Jilly Bean

Jilly Bean
As I walked into the parking lot with a bag of groceries in one hand, I rummaged around in my purse with the other. Where did I put those keys? I was considering returning to the store to see if I had accidentally left them when, upon reaching my car, I stopped short. Little puffs of grey smoke were coming out of the exhaust pipe. Quickly I tried the door. Locked. I put my face up to the window and there, hanging from the ignition were my keys. It was bad enough that I had locked them inside, but to do it while the car was running was to make a new personal record for stupidity.

I called Brandon from the payphone and he promised to save me by delivering the spare key. The only problem was that Jill still had it at our parent’s house in Ogden. Although there was still snow on the ground the sun was shining and I leaned against the car to enjoy the warmth of the spring morning. Reaching into the grocery bag I pulled out a nice big apple. At least I had a snack.

I took the first bite and looked at my car. The white Geo-Metro was nothing luxurious, but it was special to me. Jill had recently purchased a new Honda Civic and I became the proud owner of her ’96 compact car, which I was happy to have. I was used to taking her old possessions when she bought new ones. I added the car to my collection of her snowboarding gloves, stereo, and various pairs of shoes. She had always considered things ‘worn out’ much sooner than I. My thrifty personality wouldn’t allow her to throw out what I still considered good merchandise. I enjoyed these ‘hand me ups’ while knowing that I was the one that should have been handing down to her. There never really was a big sister in our relationship. We were equals. Except that she was the one with all the guts. As I thought about the spunky girl that had been a constant part of my life, memories flooded my mind.

Jill was a quiet little girl who spent much of her time alone. She worked on making origami animals and wrote little stories on note pads. Her demeanor seemed so shy, but underneath was pure stubbornness. Our aunts and uncles were surprised on her third birthday when she changed her name. No longer would she allow anyone to refer to ‘Jill.’ “My name,” she would calmly, but firmly correct, “is Jilly Bean.” The adults would laugh, as they often do at the whims of children, but she wasn’t trying to be funny. Her seriousness added to the humor. So Jilly Bean she became. She, just before kindergarten, regretted her insistence when, in an effort to become mature, she tried to return to being just Jill again. It wasn’t a habit that was easy to break. Everyone called her Jilly Bean long past the days that she wanted them to.

When I was young, I was terrified that I might accidentally do something to make the adults laugh at me that way. I was amazed at the courage which filled this little girl. She didn’t care what they thought. She wanted to be called Jilly Bean, and it didn’t matter if everyone else thought it was silly.

I remember another time when I stood in awe of her bravery. The best part of the summer happens each day as the evening approaches and the bright sun begins to relinquish its scorching attack. Jill and I would take advantage of this pocket of time to ride our bikes and enjoy the carefree wanderings of childhood. We would ride up to MarLon Hills Elementary School, which was just up the road from our house, and play on the jungle gym. When I look back on one day in particular, when I was nine and she was seven, I can still feel the peace and freedom that a safe neighborhood provided. I can also feel the terror that keeping up with Jill provoked. Instead of just playing on the monkey bars, Jill had another idea.

She pointed to the Big Hill. We all called it the Big Hill because it was way too steep for any type of fun. My eyes followed the direction of her finger.
“What?” I hadn’t yet grasped her vision.
She looked down at her bike and in an excited whisper said, “Let’s do it.”
“On our bikes? Are you kidding?” She was nuts. When I looked into her face I knew that she wasn’t kidding and had already made up her mind to ride down the hill. I knew I couldn’t abandon her in this wild pursuit. I took a deep breath. “All right. It doesn’t look so bad,” I lied, secretly hoping that when we got to the top she would chicken out.

The Big Hill was so steep that the two of us had to walk, pushing our bikes to make it to the top. Panting, I dropped my bike and sat down. I was in no hurry. The incline looked foreboding from the bottom, but from the top, it was more like suicide.

“This is going to be great!” she said. I wasn’t so sure. She looked into my face and I knew she could see the terror that was taking over my physical faculties. My hands started to shake and my stomach felt like it suddenly had turned to solid rock.
“Do you want me to go first?” she asked without fear.
NO!! I wanted to shout. Are you crazy? Sometimes it made me mad that she was so brave because always got me into these kinds of situations.

Without waiting for an answer, she jumped onto her bike and was halfway down the treacherous drop before I could even stand up. In that moment my heart stopped. Everything stopped, except the tires of her little worn out bike which were spinning so insanely fast that I could almost see smoke coming off of them. I thought that in any second the bike would become airborne. The speed in and of itself was enough to send my sister through the various layers of the atmosphere into outer space. How could I have let her take this risk? I should have protected her.

My worry was in vain. By the time I knew what was happening Jill was already at the bottom of the hill. Her brakes skidded over the black-top finish line and she started to slow down.

Du-Dum! I actually felt the second that my heart resumed its beat. I was so relieved. She turned her bike around and waved.
“Your turn.”
Suddenly my fear was re-ignited with a different type of flame. Now I returned to the sharp drop-off that my timid soul was facing. She had survived. I probably would too. Just go! Don’t think about it. The debate began in my head. I knew that if I tried to come to a practical resolution I would end up walking my bike down to the bottom instead of achieving the triumphant display of heroism that Jill had. I can’t be out-done by my little sister.
I had no choice. In one burst of peer-pressured adrenaline I hurled my bike onto the pavement. The front wheel had already started down, and as the back wheel gained speed, I was breathless. The air whipped at my ears and my eyes filled with water. The speed was magnificent. I was flying. In only a few seconds I slowed down and took my place on the hero’s podium next to Jill.
“That was AWESOME!” I yelled.
“Let’s do it again.” She answered.
I hesitated.
She frowned.
“Okay,” I said, so that she would smile again.
We did it again and again. I never got over the fear…or the desire to keep up with my sister.
She was always the courageous one.
She was my best friend.

“Do you need some help?” an elderly woman with a shopping cart broke my reverie. She had deduced my plight and was looking sympathetic.
“My husband is on his way. Thank you,” I smiled. It was surprising that she had even dared to speak to me because of my appearance. I had gone to the store straight after working out at the gym. My face was red, my hair was sticking out of the ponytail in weird directions, and my clothes were streaked with sweat marks. As I looked at my reflection in the windshield I had to laugh. I wondered if the car had objections to being owned by such a sloppy-looking driver. It probably missed Jill, who could not have been caught with a hair out of line. I pulled my eyebrows up in a surprised expression and watched the wrinkles form on my forehead. I could almost see her image there next to me. We had stood next to each other and compared faces before.

There we were as we had been so many times before, standing side by side closely comparing our faces in the mirror.
“Your forehead is bigger, and your nose is smaller,” I said.
“Our noses are the same size; they’re both big,” she argued.
I could never explain how the two of us could look so similar and so different at the same time. Strangers often recognized that we were sisters, but on close examination, there was really little similarity between our features. We both had blue eyes, but hers were a bright sky color, where mine were dark and had a grey tint. She had high cheekbones that were defined when she smiled and a small mouth with straight teeth. My cheeks were chubby and my mouth was longer. I was shorter and pudgier. If it were possible to take my body and stretch it a few inches, it might end up looking like hers. Her perfect figure was tall and thin. Her forehead was large and mine was small and wrinkled. We didn’t look anything alike…but we did. She was right. It must have been the nose.
When she was four and I was seven it was much easier to see our similarities. Our childish faces looked alike and since Mom had let us choose our attire for ourselves we wore the same styles of mismatched clothes. Fortunately during the 80s that kind of thing worked. At that time we were both blondes although to different degrees. My hair was dirty blonde, long, and stringy. Hers was completely white and always short due to her several attempts at cutting it herself which resulted in emergency trips to the hairdresser. We were different that way, even as kids. I was content with my hair in pigtails or braids and didn’t preoccupy myself with how it looked. Jill, however, wanted to take her style into her own hands, which eventually paid off.
I remember how shocking it was when I realized that my little sister had turned beautiful. She had always been a cute little girl, but with her short hair and freckles she seemed so young. Then, when I wasn’t even looking she grew up. It was like one of those T.V. makeovers, but happened more gradually. Jill’s interest in hair spanned into adolescence and soon she was creating new styles and experimenting with makeup and clothes. Although she was only fifteen, her tall, thin frame made her look like a model. We had always looked so much alike that some people thought we were twins, but now Jill had emerged from puberty far ahead of the beauty standard I kept.
I was delighted. She wasn’t only prettier than I was, she was prettier than almost every girl at Bonneville High School. If she hadn’t been my sister, I might have been annoyed but because she was, I was proud. She was proud of me too, “You are way cuter than I am,” she would say to me and I knew that she really believed it. That’s why I always knew that we had a true friendship. We saw the best in each other. I think that is also why we had so much fun.
Many of our fun times happened while playing games. When we were really young we had developed an almost nightly ritual of meeting in her bedroom for about an hour of cards. We started with Uno, which kept us entertained for a couple of months. It wasn’t enough for us to play by the regular children’s rules. She was seven and I was nine so we physically fit the description of “kids” but we both knew that in our gaming skills, we were adults. To make the game more advanced we gradually developed our own set of new rules. Contrary to many children that are trying to develop a new game, Jill and I didn’t argue. Once a rule was called, it became gospel and we stuck with it. By the end of our Uno days, despite the colorful numbered cards, draw twos and wilds, there was nothing left of the original rules. Our complicated strategies were so advanced that when Matt, our older brother asked to play, he could not keep up.
“You’re playing it wrong.”
Jill and I just looked at each other. We knew that we were, but we liked our way better.
Pretty soon our Uno game got so complicated that it was impossible to play. We tried playing Sorry, Trouble, and other board games, but nothing had the intensity to keep our interest.
Then came the day that Grandma Ike taught us the best game in the world, Strip Jack Naked. Who would have ever thought that such a good woman would even know a game with such a vulgar name? But she did, and she taught it to her granddaughters.
The game, I would later learn from the kids at school, is popular and better-known by the equally unpleasant name of Egyptian Rat Screw or E.R.S for short. In fact, in the long history I have of playing this game, Jill, Grandma Ike, and I seem to be the only ones that have ever heard of the name Strip Jack Naked. Grandma is no longer around, but Jill and I reverently use the name she passed down to us. The game was perfect for us because it was quick.
The hard part about playing games with my sister is that she is so competitive. Every time we got a new game she would play until she had the winning record, or high score. It happened first with Tetris. She started out by setting the bar with a high score. She announced her accomplishment to me and presented an immediate challenge for me to beat it, which I promptly did. The next thing I knew, she had outdone me again. I had no choice but to return the favor. Back and forth we went. Sometimes it would take an entire week for me to beat her score, but I always managed to do it. Then, one fateful day, Jill reached a score that was a large margin higher than the previous. It was completely unbeatable. I spent two months trying daily to pass her up, to no avail. The score was so high that she couldn’t even get close to it again. That was the end. Since that day, neither of us has played Tetris again. The same thing happened with a computer maze game called Lady Bugs, with Pac Man, Mrs. Pac Man, and Dr. Mario. The games were all killed by Jill’s records. I am proud that in most cases, my name is second on the list…but I do think it is a little unfair that she beats me at everything. I’m not sure if it is because she is better at games, or just more determined.
That is why Strip Jack Naked is such a great game. The two of us played and played until we became sort of professionals. There is no Olympic Gold for the fastest player, but if there was, I have no doubt it would go to one of the two of us. The best part about it was that most of the time I would win. She was always close behind, but somehow through some miraculous exchange of cards, I would come out as victor. Sometimes we still play this game, even though we are now both adults. No matter how many players start out with us, in the end it always goes back to sister against sister. On those sweet moments when I take the victory, she smiles bigger than I do. She was always proud of me and I knew it. I can understand how she feels because I’m proud of her too.

I was expecting to see Brandon on his way to save me, but instead it was Jill turning the corner into the parking lot. I was saved.

She laughed when she saw how pitiful I looked, and I felt happy inside. She’s still my best friend.

Beards N' Roses

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth,
and he that hath no beard is less than a man.”
-William Shakespeare

“How can you let him grow that beard?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. She was just a clerk at the Albertsons that my boyfriend and I shopped at, but she was the third person that day to ask me the same question. I’m not sure when his choice of facial hair became my responsibility. Truthfully, if it had been up to me, it would have been shaved several months earlier. I was as surprised as the clerk was to find myself involved with such a hairy man.

I had begged, pleaded and threatened to end the relationship, but still the beard remained and even worse, it continued to grow. It was starting to come between the two of us, literally.

When I say beard, I’m not talking about one of those wimpy looking goatees that high school boys can grow. I’m not even talking about a trim, professor-ish intellectual type of facial hair that pops up on college campuses. I’m talking about a Real Man’s Beard. As far as I was concerned, this man’s beard was out of control. It was thick and coarse and made up of a variety of browns, reds and blondes that blended together to cover both cheeks and chin. Brandon’s naturally curly hair fell in ringlets past his ears, and the beard completed the circle forming a lion-like mane. The natural curl extended itself to the beard, which wasn’t quite as tight but enough that each hair curved back toward its roots. This phenomenon made the beard grow bushier instead of longer. The hairs poked out in all directions off Brandon’s face in a wild bush. Believe me, people noticed.

“Hey man, sweet beard!” yelled a stranger from his car window as he passed us on the street.
“It’s about time to shave young man,” was the disdainful advice from a church leader.
“My girlfriend would never let me have one of those,” said a friend we ran into on campus, who winked in my direction. I think he was trying to be complimentary, but I wanted to punch him in his clean-shaven face.

“What can I say?” was always Brandon’s proud response…And what else could he say, really? He didn’t need to comment because the beard spoke for itself. It boasted of manliness, the type that goes back hundreds of years to the first cave-men who killed saber tooth tigers with their bare hands. It bragged of freedom and independence. A man with a beard this bold was not shackled by the chains of an oppressive relationship or burdened with the norms of society. He set his own rules for style and it drove me crazy. I wanted him to be sensitive and to make me look good - not proclaim to the world the magnitude of his man-power. I didn’t want casual observers deciding that he had a beard because I allowed it.

“What’s so wrong with having a beard?” Brandon would ask me. I could think of about 100 reasons. It covered up his adorable smile, it scratched my face when we kissed, it accumulated a collection of icicles when we went snowboarding and possibly the greatest evil of all, it was weird. The rules for beards are quite clear. A person with a long beard is one of the following: a mountain man, a hermit, a biker, an Amish cheese-maker, a Taliban member, Santa Claus or the Uni-bomber; NO EXCEPTIONS. People are going to think I’m dating a psychopath! I worried. I hated the attention his appearance brought to both of us, which, I suspected, was the very reason he continued his fast from shaving.

I tried to get over my irritation numerous times. What is the big deal anyway? Beards have been around since the beginning of man. With all that facial hair throughout history some women must have learned to deal with it. Brigham Young, who wore perhaps one of the most famous beards in history, had at least 50 wives. If they could see past the fuzz, why couldn’t I?

“You’ve got some cheese in your beard,” I said trying to pick a fight.
“I know,” he smiled. “I’m saving it for later.”
I gagged. “That’s nasty!”
“I’ll get some more and save a bit for you too, if you want.”
“No thanks.” I had to giggle despite my disgust at the image. I paused, “I don’t get you.”
“Why do you keep growing that mess? It drives everyone crazy.”
He thought for a moment, “It’s the principle of the thing.”
“What principle?”
He just shrugged his shoulders. “Growing hair is one of my only talents. I need to embrace what I’m good at. Some people can sing or paint, I grow hair.”

The light-hearted way he joked about the situation only added to my gravity. He wasn’t taking me seriously. I was tempted to give him an ultimatum right then, but I had a strong suspicion that if he had to choose between the two of us, he would keep the beard.

I looked across the table at him. His broad shoulders and strong arms amplified a large chest that narrowed neatly into a trim waist. The red T-shirt he wore was tight in all the right places but as my eyes moved upward they were accosted with the sight of the hair-covered face which was slightly hidden by the brim of a trucker-style baseball cap. The hat boldly blazed the symbol of the Thundercats, a cartoon which had been popular in the 80s. The combination of the hat and the hair gave him a hippie-ish look. It was more than I could handle.

Something needed to change.

The moment came just a few days later when a clean-cut business major in my class asked me out. David seemed to be everything Brandon was not and I was intrigued. He picked me up in a nice car as soon as he got off work at the bank. Now that’s a real job, I thought to myself, somehow implying that Brandon’s job working at an after-school program wasn’t. David wore attractive clothes and his appearance fit the social criteria that I had been worried about. In fact, he looked so average that not a single stranger even noticed us. We went to dinner and ice skated outside under the stars. Sipping hot chocolate, we strolled through the streets which were lighted for the season. It had all the charm of a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas Special.

I hated it.

He did everything he was supposed to by following all the rules of dating etiquette, and by every standard of society the evening was perfect. Why then wasn’t I impressed? I guess it was because it reminded me too much of red roses.

Let me explain.

I used to fill in on busy days at a local flower shop and while there I learned to enjoy the variety of colors and the shapes of the blossoms that were offered. Tulips, daisies, orchids, lilies and many other lovely choices were stocked in the cooler. Yet, daily, men flocked to the shop for roses. “Give me red roses!” they would cry. Each Valentine’s Day these prospective Don Juans paid through the nose because the price of a rose tripled during February. But, stoically, they would open their wallets claiming, “There is no limit on the price of love.” Time after time I returned to the cooler searching for yet more roses and could almost hear the other flowers beg, “Take me, I want to profess love too.” Instead of designing a colorful mix like I would have liked, I was forced to arrange the same mass-produced vase over and over again.

Roses, like beards, have a significant place in history. Evidence of their existence has been found as far back as 35 million years ago, and they have been used as symbols of love, beauty, politics and war. Red roses have become popular because they are supposed to imply romance. Woe to the foolish man who purchases a pink rose for his beloved and accidentally gives her the message of gratitude, or worse yet, the yellow of friendship.

According to any self proclaimed, “Hopeless Romantic,” red roses are the ultimate symbol of true love. That is the rule and all men are required to dutifully follow it. Right? Unfortunately, often in my flower-selling experience, I saw several less than sincere men purchasing the crimson buds. Often the gift was a necessary penance after the man had really screwed up. It didn’t have anything to do with feelings. Before long the roses took on a new, less romantic symbolism. Sometimes the “ultimate symbol of love” became, instead, an easy way to woo a girl without really putting forth much effort. A vase full of expensive long stems, in this case, was an illusion of happiness hiding a multitude of sins. Once I even saw a billboard with three sizes of arranged roses and the caption, “How mad is she?” I think the advertisement captured the essence of what roses often mean. Of course, there are some romantic men that are merely trying to impress a girl, but why couldn’t they choose another flower once in awhile? While I was working at the shop I decided that I wasn’t interested in enjoying the symbols of love. I wanted the real, day-to-day thing.

I guess that’s why the cheesy atmosphere of the date didn’t do it for me. It was the perfect Seventeen Magazine scenario, without the feeling that would have made it worthwhile. The date was too much, too soon, and felt obligatory, scripted and a little reminiscent of the quick, easy dozen that required neither creativity nor sincerity.

When David asked if he could call me again, I politely declined. There was really nothing wrong with him, but he wasn’t my style. He needed a girl who would swoon over his illusions and fall in love with his romantic notions. I wanted someone who was bold, frank, and unconcerned about the whims of society.

I wanted the beard back.

There is nothing innately wrong with beards, I began to realize. There have been several upstanding citizens who have sported healthy facial hair. The image of the Uni-bomber was replaced with one of Moses, who performed enough miracles to liberate an entire people. The hobo switched to Abraham Lincoln, who, although gruff looking, freed the slaves. My list continued to grow including Noah, Dumbledore and of course, Bob Ross. Each one of these men has had an important, perhaps even vital impact on the world.

I saw Brandon the next day on campus. When I looked up into his face, instead of merely seeing an unruly patch of overgrown hair, I saw a man that was happy to be who he was. This man didn’t need to rebel against society and didn’t feel pressure to conform either. His sincerity was the exact thing that made me love him. He didn’t need to scan GQ Magazine trying to find ways to impress the world. He didn’t worry how many old ladies shook their heads in his direction. He wanted a beard and didn’t care what anyone else thought about it.

Brandon, now my husband, is still a bearded man. He is handsome even with half of his face covered with hair and he isn’t making a bomb in the basement – at least not that I know of. He has never once brought me roses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is my little girl.