The Sentimental Crockpot

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This is my crockpot, circa 1998. Most of my kitchen is stocked with items from 1994, the year I got married. This one is from the year I got divorced. It’s not the most modern slow cooker, and fellow party-goers make jokes about it, despite the exceptionally tasty meatballs I’m usually toting in it. I could get a newer one that would probably work better and be less “retro-chic,” but this one has sentimental value. My dad gave it to me. He’s been gone eleven and a half years now, and few things call him to mind as quickly as this old-school crockpot.

My dad and I didn’t have the warmest relationship. He wanted four kids; I am Kid #5. I have no idea how old I was when my mom told me that, or why she told me, but my revisionist memory makes it seem as if I have always known this.

What I remember most about my dad was him watching TV by himself in the family room. Sometimes he’d shout clear from one end of the house to summon me from my room on the other end, only to ask me to change the channel. He could be gruff, even taciturn. But when he was in a good mood, he was hilarious, telling us funny stories, sometimes pranking us or our mom. He teased a lot, and you couldn’t tell when he was joking. I was the sensitive one who’d get hurt feelings and run crying from the room, which would piss him off. No wonder our relationship was a little strained.

Most of my childhood memories are hazy at best, and few of my dad remain at all. This one, circa 1977ish, sticks: I was sick in bed, in my yellow bedroom where the daisies from the wallpaper marched straight across the curtains. I don’t remember feeling sick, so there’s a high likelihood that I was faking it and my mom put me to bed to call my bluff, but I can’t be certain.

My dad came home and appeared in my doorway. “You’re sick?” he asked. I nodded. He vanished for a few minutes, then returned with a bowl of peanut M&Ms. From the doorway, he flung his hefty frame onto the bed next to me, causing me to bounce on the mattress and the M&Ms to jump from the bowl onto my pillow. “Would some M&Ms make you feel better?”

My dad loved me, and I knew that. But like many fathers of his day, my dad’s chief role in the family was provider. The nurturing, daily kid management, and responsibility for creating happy memories was my mom’s arena, so she got most of the credit and most of the affection.

Take Christmas morning, for example. In our family of six kids, Christmas morning involved a spectacular pile of wrapped gifts under the tree. We’d open our clothes, books, art sets, toys…each receiving a haul of gifts that my mom had shopped for, selected and wrapped. And we’d say, “Thanks, Mom!”

She’d correct us, of course. “Thanks Mom and DAD,” she’d insist. Year after year, she’d have to remind us that the gifts were from both parents. She did the shopping, but his paycheck funded the bounty.

Having lived most of my adult life as a single parent, I now recognize the financial feat required to raise six kids in Southern California.  I remember money being a touchy topic, and I know sometimes my mom had to work miracles with the budget, but we always had what we needed and then some. I think now of all the years my dad went to work each day and came home to a house full of kids who needed shoes, orthodontic treatments, football uniforms, piano lessons, and of course, mountains of groceries. I know he didn’t get to enjoy much of his paychecks. I know how that sacrifice feels, and I appreciate him now in a way that I couldn’t when I was a kid.

I know that sacrifice was an expression of love from a father that didn’t easily express love. The crockpot was another one.

My marriage was rocky from the start. We were twenty-one-year-olds with a one-year-old son, trying to do the right thing by getting married. That struggle is a different story, but suffice it to say that of our four-year marriage, we spent two years in marriage counseling until, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, I finally gave up.

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He gave me away when I got married. Fortunately, he also took me back when I got divorced.

The second-hardest part was telling my parents. Seems like all the bad news I ever delivered to my parents was sitting on that same brown sofa, my dad in his Dad Chair facing the TV. I was crying before I could get the words out. “I’m getting divorced,” I said. “He’s moving out next week.”

“Why isn’t he already out?” he barked. Then, with his usual sensitivity, “Why are you crying?”

I stayed for dinner. My mom served pepper steak. As I piled my plate with steak and peppers and potatoes and salad, I said, “I wish I had time to cook like this.”

“You just put it in the crockpot,” said my Dad, who seldom cooked at all.

“I don’t have a crockpot.” I replied.

The next time I went to my parents’ house was for my birthday dinner. My dad was unusually excited to give me my birthday present: this very crockpot.

My mom told me that it was his idea to buy it for me. Other than the gifts he gave her, and even those he often had help shopping for, this is the only gift I can ever recall that he thought of himself, shopped for himself, and wrapped by himself. And he did that for ME. Kid #5.

I knew he was worried about me, and what my life would be like as a single mom. I knew he was trying to make things easier for me with that thoughtful gift.

My dad softened up as he got older. He and my mom went through some rocky times themselves, and in the process of healing his own marriage, my dad seemed to crack open. He learned to say, “I love you” to us, though it would choke him up to speak the words. He spent less time isolated in front of the TV and became more engaged with friends, church, all of us and his grandkids. I know that my kids remember this happier version of my dad, and I’m so grateful for that.

When he was in his early sixties, a stroke took his balance. Later, a second stroke took his mind and mobility. Two years after that, in 2006, we said goodbye to him, all six of us with my mom together in his hospital room. That memory has not faded at all, but so many others are slipping away.

It’s good to have so many siblings, because they keep different memories. Soon we’ll be old folks who tell the same stories over and over to help us remember. This crockpot story will be one of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Flip Side: Meg Gets Loopy

When I wrote my last post about misadventures in internet dating, I got commiserating responses from fellow internet daters, and a note of fear from one dear friend who is “just dipping his toe” into the online dating pool. “You’re scaring me,” he said.

Of course, I graciously reassured everyone that there are plenty of nice people in the internet dating pool—heck, I’m in it, right? Mostly it’s decent human beings out there, and everyone is looking for the right match. Sure, I sniffed, I haven’t found mine yet, but I still believe he’s out there.  Then I poured another cocktail and tried to laugh it off.

Well, everything changed, the very day I published that post.

Today I can hardly write because I can’t see out of my heart-shaped cartoon pupils. No kidding. I’m pretty sure there are birds and maybe even squirrels singing happy little tunes right outside in the parking lot of my office building.

I met someone. I mean SOMEONE.

Normally, I meet nice guys on internet dates— guys who are pleasant and reasonably attractive and have jobs and all their teeth and I think, “Okay, Meg…this could be viable. There is nothing wrong with this guy. You should give this one a shot. ” And I try to send some moderately enthusiastic text messages to indicate interest, and I try to pencil him into my schedule within a reasonable time frame, and I walk this weird line of trying to keep him interested while I try to talk myself into being interested. Try, try, try. So much work!

You can imagine how attractive I am while I’m doing this ambivalent crazy-dance. Invariably, the guy senses that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, or I sense that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, and back to the drawing board I go. Yes, I’m a head case. I keep thinking that maybe if I just give one of these guys enough time, some kind of spark will ignite.

Apparently, sparks don’t require much time to ignite. I met this new Someone one time, and BAM! Two weeks later, I have become a 16-year-old girl. I haven’t been this attentive to my phone since EVER, because maybe he sent a text! Maybe I should send him a text!! Maybe I should write our initials in a heart on a Pee-Chee folder!! With lots and lots of exclamation points!!!!

That “maybe you should try” voice is drowned out by the “WHOOOOEEEEE!” voice and now there is a new one chanting, “Slow down slow down slow down.”

Look, Voices– I am a grown-ass woman and I can handle this.

It is hard to be 40 and 16 at the same time. I’m flip-flopping between giddiness and eye-rolling at my own insipid state. There’s no way to erase all the lessons I’ve learned about rushing into things, or people not being who they appear to be at first. An overthinker/worrywart, I tend to play it close to the chest.  So now, I have this constant argument in my head between the infatuated teenager and the cautious adult.  And you thought I was crazy already. Ugh.

The good news is that the Someone is also loopy. He’ll send a message saying, “I’ve been wanting to text all morning, but I’m trying to maintain composure.”  Or he’ll follow some sweet sentiment with, “Am I being pathetic?”

So we discussed it, this delightful Someone and I—we had an adult conversation about whether we are being reckless. Should we be mature about this and take a step back, perhaps?  Do we need time to cool off?  After thoughtful consideration, we decided HECK NO! THIS IS TOO FUN! Who cares about tomorrow because TODAY ROCKS!

In a week or two or six, if I post again about how internet dating sucks, please forgive this brief, moony-eyed lapse into smarminess. I’m not in my right mind. And I really, really hope I get to stay this way.

Cupcakes and Competition: Lessons from a High School Bake-off

Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes with Cookie Dough Centers. Yeah baby.

“Mom,” my daughter said. “I have to bake cupcakes for Huffman’s class. It’s for a bake-off and I get 25 points for entering.”

“Great,” I answered. “How many points do we get when we win?”

Oh, we won. We don’t mess around. We made Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes (a la Joy the Baker) with a cookie dough center, complete with whipped cream and cherries. Some of the other kids—kids who brought inferior baked goods–criticized Maddy for trying too hard.

Trying too hard?? It’s a competition! Do you criticize your basketball team for trying too hard? Do you tell your track runners to slow down? No. You tell them to WIN.

My daughter and I are both highly competitive. Our competitiveness is exceeded only by our lack of athletic ability. So while we can’t run faster or jump higher or hit harder than you, we will KICK YOUR ASS in a bake-off. Our cupcakes will mop the floor with your lousy cookies and then stuff them down your throat, LOSER.

Only we won’t say that out loud, because we’re ladylike.

Maddy and I were cracking ourselves up, talking about our aggressive baking and how our thwarted competitive natures spill over into non-competitive arenas because we have no other outlets. Maddy said something like, “Yeah, I’m good at all the lame stuff—baking, board games, logic puzzles…”

Then, because I am a mom, I jumped in with a little lesson that I wish I’d learned earlier in my life.

“Baking isn’t lame. Logic puzzles aren’t lame. You think it’s the lame stuff because it’s what you’re good at,” I told her. “Other people wish they were good at the things you’re good at—it’s not lame stuff. You just don’t value your talents because they come easily to you. But they don’t come easily to everyone. ”

When I was younger, I felt like I was only good at easy things. My strong suits are words, pictures and people.  To me, those are all easy, fun, fluffy talents. Even my strongest skill, which has always been writing, seemed inadequate to me. Because I have a simple, straightforward style, I felt like my writing was unsophisticated and childish. I always believed that the real value was in the numbers skills–the logical, left-brain sort of talents. Yeah, I can make things look nice and I can get along with people but who cares? Who’s going to pay me for that?

As I entered corporate America, I was subjected to personality and aptitude tests that reinforced that belief. No matter which test they administered, I was cast straight into the bimbo category: you’re a Sanguine! A High I! An ENFP! They all seemed to indicate that I talk too much and I can’t keep my act together. I think my elementary school teachers were in on those tests.

I wished I could be more like the analytical types, or the bold, Type-A types. I wished my skill sets were more practical. Basically, I just wanted to be what I wasn’t. Don’t we all?

One perk of getting older is that as we gain perspective through experience, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and understand how we fit into the big picture. I have now read enough bad writing to realize what a gift it is to be succinct and articulate. I have now worked for enough terrible bosses that I see the value in people skills. I have seen enough ugliness to appreciate my own ability to make things beautiful.

I’ve also figured out that not everyone thinks that what I do is easy. Even smart people with great ideas can’t always put them in writing. They think it’s some crazy superpower, just the way I feel about people who can do math in their heads.  More than one employer has capitalized on my people skills—turns out that people skills, or “soft skills,” as they are referred to in corporate-speak, are very hard to teach.

I’m not sure if this is universal or just women who do this, but it took me a long time to understand that the “easy stuff” only seemed easy to me because I am good at it.

This phenomenon of downgrading our own talents seems to be an extension of the grass-is-always-greener mindset.  We always think someone else’s talents are more valuable than our own.  Someone said, “If the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, try watering your own lawn.”  Genius.

In this case, we need to recognize that just because it comes naturally to us, doesn’t mean it’s cheap or lame—someone wishes it came naturally to her, too.  Someone wishes he could write a better sentence, or bake a better cupcake.  My abilities are unique and valuable, even though it took me several decades to realize it. They are worth cultivating.

Another perk of being middle aged: I still have time to implement all this wisdom I’m trying to impart to my daughter. It’s not like I’m croaking out advice on my deathbed. It’s not too late to capitalize on those talents—not too late to water my own lawn.

Dancing for The Rest of Us: Meg’s Big Idea

I have this great idea. I’ll tell you, but first I have to give you the backstory. I’m all about the backstory. (It’s not enough that you have to hear my every random idea; you must know where it came from, too.)

I really want to go dancing. I’ve had this urge for a while, but I don’t know where to go. The problem is that I am too fat and old for your average Southern California dance club. I don’t want to go where the clientele is barely 21, or even younger with fake IDs, and the girls wear Lycra Band-Aid dresses and five-inch platform heels. (Have you seen height of the platforms these youngsters are wearing? If I tried to pull those off, I would snap both my ankles within an hour. Orthopedists must love those shoes.) At a club like that, I would just feel like everyone’s mother. And worse, I would LOOK like everyone’s mother.

So where do grownups go dancing? I asked around and came up with two options: one for fat, and one for old.

Apparently there is a club in Costa Mesa called The Butterfly Lounge. It’s a size acceptance club. BBWs (Big Beautiful Women) and the men who love them go dancing at The Butterfly Lounge.

At first, this seemed like it might be an option. I’m not sure if I count as a BBW. I’m a size sixteen, which is right on the border of plus size—sometimes I shop in regular stores; sometimes I shop in a plus size store. In most of the country, a size sixteen is considered average. In Orange County, women are expected to wear a size four (and have D cups—it’s a tough crowd in the OC) so I’m pretty large by local standards. I’m probably closer to BBW than Band-Aid dresses. Still, when I checked out the Butterfly Lounge web page, there were lots of very large women, and guess what? They were STILL wearing Band-Aid dresses. And crazy platform heels. And bustiers! Lots of bustiers.

I’m all for size-acceptance and for women being comfortable in their bodies. We should all be able to shake our thangs, no matter how big our thangs are. But if the whole club revolves around body size, does it matter what size we’re talking about? Seems like just another way of defining the woman by her shape. It’s kind of a two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right thing. Mainstream society glorifies one body type; glorifying another body type doesn’t correct that. I don’t want to go dancing in a club that’s all about size. And I sure as hell don’t want to wear a bustier.

The second option, for old people, was The Foxfire in Anaheim Hills. I hear this club caters to two sorts of folks: people who have been dancing in clubs since the early seventies and are still wearing the same attire, and Cougars/cubs. That makes for some interesting choices in dance partners, I guess. Shall I dance with the guy whose gray chest hair is nicely accented by his gold medallion and silk shirt? Or the young man with the Oedipus complex? Tough call! I have never had any Cougar instincts, but I guess if I were both drunk and ovulating I might consider it….for as long as it took me to do the math and realize that he was closer to my son’s age than my own. Ugh. Shudder.

Okay—that’s the backstory: there are no good dancing options for the likes of me. What I want is to go dancing at a wedding reception thrown by my awesome, ginormous Midwestern family. You know– lots of alcohol, lots of friendly people, and something to celebrate. Everyone dances with everyone, and everyone’s glad to see you.

Here comes the great idea: I should open a dance club like that. Genius!

If I could make a club that felt just like a wedding reception, everyone could come and dance. There are plenty of fat people and old people at wedding receptions, and everyone loves them because they are friends and family, not because they’re fat or old.  There are also young people at weddings, and skinny people—all sorts of folks, including your wacky uncle and ancient great-aunt, and even total strangers—like those hot, single friends of the groom. My club would have a great crowd.

People might look at you funny if you wore Lycra and platforms, but they would be perfectly accepting of mom shoes. And if you did look a little slutty, well, you could be that cousin, the one who makes questionable choices.

The DJ would play good dance music, but he would have to include “Celebrate” by Kool & The Gang and “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. Also “Shout”. Maybe even an occasional polka, so everyone could clear the floor and let the old gals take a spin. Oh, and “The Cha Cha Slide”…one hop this time!

This might be a club for dorky white people. I don’t care.

My club would be perfect for people who have courthouse weddings or those who need a cheap reception. Just show up; the reception is already in progress. We’ll let you do your first dance and your toast if you bring us some cake.

What do you think? Would you dance at a club like that? What should I call it?

I’m pretty excited about this. I need to shop.