Do as I Say, Do as I Do

There was a teenage boy walking to his bus stop just a few hundred yards from his house. In the distance, he could see a boy his age pounding a folded umbrella on the head of another teenage Asian boy, who had his arms up to protect his face, begging the boy to stop.  Running as fast as he could, the first boy reached the bus stop when the umbrella broke because it was hitting the Asian boy so hard. The first boy grabbed the umbrella away from the hitter and flung it as far as he could so the hitter would leave the area to get it. He asked the Asian boy what happened, and the Asian boy replied that the hitter was boasting about the greatness of Trump and the Asian boy said that Trump was racist, misogynistic, and would be a dangerous president to have (this was the day before the election).  The hitter apparently could not come up with a coherent response so he angrily began hitting with his umbrella. The first boy asked, “why didn’t you fight back? You needed to protect yourself!” And the Asian boy replied, “My parents taught me to never hit; to not fight.”

The bus then arrived and everybody started boarding.  The bus driver told the hitter that he couldn’t bring the broken umbrella onboard  due to safety issues.  The boy cried, “But I only JUST broke it!” And the Asian boy piped up, “BECAUSE HE WAS USING IT TO HIT ME.  He was attacking me at the bus stop!”  The bus driver said nothing; did nothing; just waved the boys to their seats.  The first boy was dumbfounded that an adult in a position to right a wrong; whose job it is to make sure school children are safe, said nothing at all.

When they arrived at school, the first boy encouraged the Asian boy to report the incident to the school, since they didn’t know if there would be more aggression from the hitting boy wanting to finish the job he started.  They walked to the school safety officer (a police officer assigned to the school) and the Asian boy said, “I was just assaulted by another boy.”  And the first boy said, “I witnessed it.”  And the school proceeded to do exactly what they were trained to do.  They interviewed the boys, had the boys write out statements, identify the aggressor through photographs in the yearbook, then the Asian boy was sent to the nurse while the school contacted his parents to report the incident.  The first boy got a tardy slip and he went to his classes and finished his school day.

Later on that night, over dinner, the boy told his parents what had happened.  They had all just been discussing how many of the boy’s friends said they liked Trump, but when the boy pressed them about their views, it turned out that they were just parroting their parents and didn’t truly understand the dangerous consequences of Trump becoming president.  Then the boy said, “This happened today…” and the story about the bully at the bus stop came out.  The parents were shocked; the father wanted to contact the school, while the mother worried about how the Asian boy was doing.  The boy insisted that his Father not call the school, because he thought the Asian boy’s parents would be causing enough fuss.  The boy worried about the repercussions of his intervention.  He wondered if the bully boy’s parents owned a gun.  He planned to have another friend drive him to school the next day, just in case the school did nothing to punish the aggressor and he was waiting at the bus stop wanting revenge.  Both parents did this:  they praised the boy for being brave; for standing up and doing something; for not being afraid in the moment, of the bully, and protecting someone who could not help himself.  They told him they were glad that, even though he was strong enough and he really wanted to, he didn’t throw the bully on the ground and fight him; that defending yourself is different from using the bully’s type of violence to pound him into the ground.  And they talked about how the other kids at the bus stop stood around watching the whole thing and didn’t even say anything.  The family talked about how similar Trump’s rise to power was to Hitler’s, and how many of Trump’s followers were very similar to Hitler’s followers.  They worried about history repeating itself, and how easy it would be for people like the bus driver and the other kids at the bus stop, to look the other way while a bully was hurting someone who could not protect himself.  They talked about how quickly something can escalate into violence when people with violence in their hearts are given permission to act out their aggressions on others.  They ended their day going to bed with worry in their hearts, for the possible future that could throw their country against the world and against their fellow citizens; a frightening future that could reach into their home and put them in danger.

This didn’t happen in an inner city neighborhood; this didn’t happen to a stranger that I never met, whose story is far away and hard to care about.  This happened in a prosperous suburban neighborhood in the whitest county in the nation’s 20 most populous counties.  This happened here, just steps from my house.  The boy walking to his bus stop was my 16 year old son.  He was brave; did everything we ever taught him to do.  He stood up for what was right and defended someone who was being attacked by a bully.  But he was outnumbered at that bus stop.  There were many other kids who witnessed the bullying before my son could make it there and intervene.  Why didn’t they do something?  Parents, why aren’t you telling your children to speak up and take action?  Why aren’t you sitting them down and having this SPECIFIC conversation about standing up to bullies?  As parents, why aren’t we being good examples to our children by practicing what we preach?  Post-election, we now have a bully that will be in charge.  He will most likely advocate and encourage other bullies to attack the vulnerable in our country.  It is up to us to protect the ones who can’t fight back.  It is up to us to get involved in our government and do what we can to resist the dangerous changes. And let me add to the phrase we all know so well, “If you see something, say something, and DO something.”

Studies have shown that it only takes ONE person to speak up in a dangerous situation to move others to join them and defend what’s right.  I am speaking up right now.  Join me.

 

Today is Just a Day

Mothers’ Day has always been a day of conflict for me. When I was a little girl, and my elementary school teachers would help us make cards and gifts to bring home for that special day, I always presented them to my mother, heart bursting with pride, hoping she would see how much I loved her by how much glitter I glued on the construction paper. Of course, my mother was an artist, a world-renowned artist. “Thank you, that’s nice” was the best I could hope for, and one raised eyebrow at my stick-figure drawings told me my artwork was not so nice. I recall most of my time with my parents filled with my yearning for a mom and dad like my friends’ moms and dads; parents who enjoyed their children and who wanted to be parents. My parents always reminded us that #1 all three of us girls were meant to be boys to carry on the family name, and #2 my mother was especially careful to let us know that she never wanted children (we interfered with her blossoming art career) but she did it to make our dad happy. My childhood heartbreak gradually hardened in my teenage years, into a resolve to find or make a family that would love me as much as I loved them. I stopped paying attention to Mothers’ Days because the only mothers I ever met who I wanted to thank, already belonged to other people like my friends. Oh, how I coveted their moms. My best friend Kirsten’s mom even let me call her Mom while we lived in Shanghai. For years, that gave me the greatest comfort.

Finally, I grew up and had the baby I always dreamed of loving. The moment our eyes made contact, I felt hit with a bolt of lightning; THIS was what I was meant to do, to be the most loving mother to this baby girl. Every single bad memory of my family took a back seat to my new priority. As a first time mother, I had very little to help guide me. Not only were my parents completely disinterested in being grandparents, I was quite certain any grandmotherly advice was useless, coming from a woman who never wanted her own children. As my baby grew into toddlerhood and her independence grew, little conflicts arose. Tempted to lose my temper in the face of tantrums or naughty behaviour, I always stopped myself with one thought, “What would my parents do?” A very twisted version of What Would Jesus Do…whatever the answer, I made a deliberate choice to do the OPPOSITE. My parents would have spanked a toddler who drew on the walls, spanked a child who wanted to wear her underwear on the outside of her pants, spanked a child who talked back. My father always told us that children were cabbages until they were old enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. I chose to learn about the concept of Time Out, let my child choose her own clothing, and learned how to use my words. I am sure it was much more frustrating and time-consuming to do it the long way, versus the shortcut of beating. But I have very clear memories of the leather belt with moons and stars cut into it, that would beat my bare legs and bottom until those moons and stars were imprinted on my flesh. I will never forget the fear and dread when my father would tell me exactly how many smacks with the belt I would get; most of the time in the double digits. I would know it was coming because if I talked back or lied or did anything wrong in my mother’s eyes, she would screw her face up in rage, point her finger at me, and scream, “Just WAIT until your father gets home!” And when I was a teenager, and the only thing I did was roll my eyeballs, as teenagers do, she didn’t even wait for my father. Her teacup full of hot green tea would come flying at my head. Maybe that’s why I became a goalie in soccer in high school; I learned to not flinch in the face of flying objects, to take the impact on my body, and to keep going.

As the years passed, the negative connotations I associated with Mothers’ Day slowly faded. Gradually, Mothers’ Day ceased being about my mother, a reluctant mother. I started to see that it was a day about any human being, man or woman, who CHOSE to care for another. My own children brought me homemade cards of construction paper, glue, and glitter, on the breakfast tray in bed. I have saved every one of them. My oldest, Emily, ever since she could write, has written silly poems and hilarious rap songs. I cherish every one of them. Even when I went into labor with my youngest, Simon, little Emily made colourful little posters to tape on the hospital room wall to cheer me on, “Laber is Fun!” I still have that little poster, misspelling and all. “Laber” isn’t all that fun, after all, but this family sure is. Last year, my husband cared for me and the children while I battled breast cancer; he became the best example of a mother I have ever known. I look around my life, and there is no more room for bad feelings on Mothers’ Day.

This morning, for the first time, I woke without my husband and my oldest child on Mothers’ Day. Markus is out in Seattle, working hard to make a new home for our family to move to next month. Emily is in Phoenix with her best friend to celebrate her graduation from university. Feeling slightly sorry for myself, I opened my eyes to find my two younger children, Hanna and Simon, holding a tray of breakfast and a coffee in a Love Cup. “Happy Mothers’ Day, Mama, we love you!” A feast of eggs and kale and onions, and their happy faces beaming at me while I ohh’d and ahh’d. Simon told me, “My gift to you is that I am going to scoop poop in the yard and mow the lawn!” And they both promised to help me clean the house for company tonight. That’s a minor miracle right there. I opened my email, and there was a letter to me, from my Emily. Not her usual funny rap or poem, this is what she wrote:

“Hi Mama Bear!

This isn’t my usual rap, because I felt that I had a lot to say that wouldn’t be very easy to rhyme. It’s Mother’s Day! You’ve gone through three “labers,” none of which could have been all that fun. You’ve raised one semi-adult who has so far managed not to perish out in the real world, one sassy teenager who loves to shock us all with her rebellion and independence, but who will one day undoubtedly shock us with incredible success, and also one hilariously weird boy who has the exterior of a hardened thug, but who’s insides are filled with love and an amazing sense of kindness. On top of all of this, you work hard to maintain the most beautiful marriage that I have ever seen.

When I was first processing that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer last year, they were some of the scariest feelings I’ve ever felt. First off, what kind of universe did we live in if someone as caring, sweet, and undeserving as you could possibly be dealt an early entry into Heaven? I realized we had all taken you and everything you did for us for granted; something I still sometimes catch myself guilty of. You are the only constant I’ve had in my entire life and I’ve literally known you for forever. How am I supposed to ever be expected to navigate through this stupid world without you to call and complain to? Without you to cry and scream and vent to, without hearing your 100% honest advice on something as small as what to buy at the grocery store, all the way to making life-changing decisions that I’m too weak to deal with on my own? That’s why when you were diagnosed, I never really considered it an option that you could ever disappear from my world. Nothing was strong enough to take you away from me, because you are mine and I couldn’t let that happen.

This was a very idiotic and naive approach to your newly discovered cancer. Because I wiped away this possibility, I did not embrace the seriousness of your illness, nor how important it would be for me to move back home. Even when I finally did, I look back and see how little I contributed to the family, how much more I could have done to lessen the burden of your surgery and healing. I know I can’t make that time up to you, but I am sorry for being a noob.

I have so many amazing memories of times we have shared. Obviously we have had some really bad times, horrible screaming fights and sometimes deafening bouts of silence. You’ve said before that you have blocked out most of your negative memories from your childhood, because they were too painful to keep around. But I think that the reason I remember less of the bad and all of the good is not because the bad is so bad, but because the good is so great. You and Papa have given us such an amazing life, full of the most love and laughter out of family I could ever imagine. I love when we’re all out for dinner, and half the conversation is purely brought-up memories that make my mouth burst out with laughter, and my heart burst with all the love we all share.

You are the coolest, funniest, most welcoming and biggest hearted mom (and person) I have ever known or even heard about. Even without ever meeting you, my friends give you rave reviews. I’m so sorry it took me so long to realize that I chose the best possible person to not only raise me, but to be my very best friend. I love you the most and I hope you always know that.

Happy Mother’s day Mama!!

Love,
Emmy”

Mothers’ Day is not a happy day for many people. But I believe you do not have to settle for what Life dishes out to you. If you can survive to adulthood, you can make the changes you need to find happiness. Leave the bad behind, or if you choose to keep it in your heart, use it to make your life better. There are some shitty moms out there getting some pretty damn good love from children that deserve more. Stay strong, kiddos. There is love out there, and it doesn’t have to come from your bio mom. If you can’t find it, you make it yourself. The more love you make, the more love just bubbles up and overflows.

This is it. I am here. I made it. I am the mother I always wanted, with the children I always wanted, in the family I always wanted. Dreams do come true. Happy Mothers’ Day to those who can, and I wish a Future Happy Mothers’ Day to those who will make it so down the line.

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

My oldest daughter, Emily, is coming home for her Reading Week (like Spring Break) from university, TODAY!  She has grown from a giggly little silly girl, through her awkward years, into a woman who works for her goals and makes her own happiness. We blinked, and she grew up.  She always had the most difficult time moving when she was younger; she took our relocations much harder than the younger two.  I remember feeling similar as a teenager, moving all over the world with my family, but never as heartbroken as Emmy would get.  I crawled inside her teenage heart, a little while back, and wrote this from her point of view.  You might think I exaggerate, but I don’t write fiction:

Snow.  Just say the word and instant images spring to mind.  Christmas, sleigh rides, and snowball fights, right?  To someone accustomed to snowy winters, these things might be taken for granted.  To a girl like me, born in Texas and raised in Hawaii, snow and the way of life that accompanies it, were alien concepts. Snow was nothing that felt like home; only sunny days and warm breezes meant home.  That is, until 4 years ago, at age 16, I came home from my school in Kona, Hawaii, to discover that my dad was being transferred to Banff, Alberta.  In my mind, we were moving to the North Pole, and my life was over.  As far as I was concerned, snow was cold, so snow was bad.  And the sun – my glorious sunshine – what was I going to do without it?! Goodbye sunny beaches and hello to snowshoes and grizzly bears.

Looking back, I realize how completely horrible I was to my family during the preparations for the move.  Even on the flight from Kona to Vancouver, I cried the entire way.  After all, every friend I had in the world was being left behind, and I was heading to a country full of strangers; cold strangers.  Every attempt by my parents, brother, and sister to cheer me up with novelty of living in a national park, learning new sports and activities, and chances to make new friends, was met with my cold shoulder (I thought that was highly appropriate, since we were moving to the tundra).  My mom just hugged me and said, “You’ll see.  You have no idea how magical snow is.  It will change you forever.”  Then we landed in Vancouver International Airport and were met with the biggest snowstorm that had hit Vancouver in 30 years (according to the news).  All flights were cancelled and the airport was shut down.  For 3 hours, the 5 of us sat up against a wall, on 10 pieces of luggage, while my dad called around to find a hotel room that wasn’t already taken by the thousands of other stranded travelers in the airport.  My little brother, Simon,  and sister, Hanna were getting antsy, I hated the world and thought this was a very perfect way for dratted Canada to welcome me, and my poor mom was stuck between telling the kids to settle down, and wiping my tears.  In between my sniffles, I heard Simon gasp and loudly whisper, “That lady is picking her nose!  Look!”  Sure enough, a very dignified lady was digging away, and right next to her was a child doing the same.  After much shushing from my mom, with instructions for us to stop giggling and to find another activity, she offered us the video camera for us to keep a video diary of our journey to Canada.  She thought we would be interviewing each other and doing something wholesome and constructive.  We thought differently.  We set out and discovered 8 people in the surrounding area who were publically picking their noses. Then we put together a mock documentary about nose picking and the types of people who like to do that in airports.  We entertained ourselves with this until it was time to pack ourselves into 2 taxis and drive to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.  Outside the taxi windows, the snow floated down; giant, fat, fluffy flakes, falling out of the sky.  When the taxis came to a stop in front of the hotel, we all tumbled out and just stood there, with our smiling faces held up to the sky.  My mom said, “Open your mouths!  Catch the snowflakes on your tongue!” and I did.  And I felt the first moment of happiness come to me.  But when I opened my eyes and saw the cloud-filled sky, I remembered that my sunshine was gone. With my returned bad mood, I grumbled my way into the hotel.  The next 3 days were filled with frantic calls to the airlines, little kids worried that Santa wouldn’t know we were there if we were stuck in Vancouver over Christmas, and  me complaining about how cold I was.  But on our 2nd day, we took a break.  The snowplows in the city just couldn’t cover all the streets, so there weren’t any cars.  We pushed our way through snow that was 2 feet deep, to an area on the waterfront where we were the only 5 people in a pristine world of hushed white softness.  We rolled in it.  We made snow angels.  We pushed and heaved and together made an enormous snowman.  There was an epic snowball fight and we ended the afternoon by trudging back to the hotel, freezing cold, but laughing and all holding hands.  Along the way, my parents asked us, “what do you think, will Canada be a good new home for us?”  The little ones yelled, “YES!” but I let go of their hands and stopped laughing.

3 days later, we finally made it to Banff.  The trees lining the street leading to the hotel were twinkling with white lights, and out of the swirling cloud of snow loomed the most beautiful castle:  the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.  We checked into our rooms, and discovered that my dad’s secretaries had put up a fully decorated, REAL Christmas tree, with gifts underneath.  The room was filled with the pungent smell of pine mixed with piping hot cocoa and whipped cream.  Among the presents under the tree were 3 toboggans, labeled for each of us kids. The next day my dad took us out behind the hotel to the sledding hill. I was in an awful mood, being so cold I could barely think, but during our first run down the hill my mood instantly uplifted. The 20 second glide down was just the break I needed from thinking about all the sad parts of moving. I didn’t have to think about anything except the thrill of feeling just a little bit out of control. Trekking up the hill for another run warmed me up to the point that I was actually sweating. I never knew that could be possible! That was my first activity in snow that I actually enjoyed. Later, in the hotel lobby, sipping on yet more hot chocolate, my parents looked at me and asked, “Is this so bad?  Could we make it our home?”  Feeling disloyal to Hawaii, I shook my head and walked to the elevators.

A few days after that, our family explored the hotel property and peeked in at the 100 year old cabin where we would live.  Nestled in the woods, Earnscliffe Cottage was the summer home of Lady Agnes MacDonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister.  This information went right over the head of my little brother.  He just started squealing, “MAMA!  We are moving to the Little House in the Big Woods! There will be bears and wolves and coyotes and elk and moose and foxes and more animals than we ever had in Hawaii!” Then he and Hanna toppled over and started making snow angels.  My parents looked at me and asked, “How is this?  Do you think we could make it our home?”  I immediately wiped the smile off of my face, shook my head and headed back to the hotel.

In Hawaii, I always took my showers in the morning and headed out the door with my long hair dripping wet.  The balmy breezes and the sunshine would dry it for me.  In Canada, my parents suggested I either shower at night or use a hair dryer in the morning.  Stubbornly, I refused, and one morning went outside, my head held defiantly high, my hair dripping down.  The outside temperature was -30◦.  My little brother had a great time breaking off what he called my “haircicles.”  How on earth could my parents imagine we could ever make this our new home?!

School started.  I hated it.  The girls were mean and the boys were ugly.  The entire high school was the size of my graduating class back in Hawaii.  During Social Studies, disparaging remarks were made about the gun culture in the USA and the fast food, etc, lumping all Americans in with the crazy ones.  I was constantly battling to defend my country, and butted heads with everyone.  Finally, my mom sat me down during the 2nd week of school.  She told me that, as a diplomat’s daughter, she learned a very valuable lesson growing up an American in a foreign country.  If you’re the new kid, close your mouth, put a smile on your face, and remember that you are a guest in that country.  It isn’t polite for a guest to criticize her host, and it is rude to only talk about where you came from, instead of being interested in where you are NOW.  And then she dropped the bombshell; the Rule.  The Rule was:  I had exactly 6 months to indulge in feeling sorry for myself in my new home.  They wouldn’t scold or lose their patience with my moping for 6 months.  But on the first day of the 7th month, I was required to pull myself out of mourning and join Life, whether I liked it or not.  I ranted and raged – 6 months was not enough time for me to get over my horrible situation – there was no way I could do it.  My mom said, “You’ll be surprised, honey.  It will take less time than you think.  Give it a chance.  You have Facebook to keep your old friends while you make new ones.  You also have the 4 best friends that you will ever have in your life right here with you now.  Us.  Remember that your family is your best friend – the one constant we take with us wherever we move.  We can make this our home as long as we’re together.” 

It ended up only taking 1 month. I didn’t notice the time flying by as I learned how to ski, snowboard, and ice-skate.  I stopped saying negative things, and friends surrounded me.  Every night at dinner, my family has a little tradition called Worst and Best. Each person takes a turn and first says the worst thing about their day, then for a happy ending, says the best thing about their day.  In the beginning, I could never think of a best thing, so I would cop out with saying something like, “well, I’m still alive.”  In time, it became increasingly difficult to find any worst things to say.  Then, one night after dinner, we took the dogs for a walk in the gently falling spring snow.  We all stopped under one of the black iron street lamps that was glowing in a small circle of snow-laden pine trees, the snowflakes piling up on our eyelashes as we puffed out soft clouds of breath.  My mom exclaimed, “I’ve been trying to put my finger on why it always feels so familiar, like I’ve been here before…I finally figured it out!  We’ve come through the wardrobe and we are living in Narnia!”  As the whole family laughed, I looked around the warm circle of love that we made in the forest, and I said, “Ask me.  Ask me now.”  My parents knew exactly what I meant, and they said, “Can we make this our home?”  And I replied, “My home is where my heart is, and my family is my heart.  So we are home now.”  Last month, we received our permanent residency in Canada, and one day I hope to be a dual citizen. We’ll never again have the hot Hawaiian sun on our faces, but the sun shining on the snow over here is the same sun – just a little further North.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Any night is apparently the night to partaaay in these here parts…and my new neighbors seem to live by this mantra. We lived 5 years in a little house in Hawaii, and then moved to Banff to live blissfully in a 100 year-old cabin in the woods for 3 years.  It has been quite the adjustment to live in an apartment with neighbors below our floor, now.  You either get lucky in the neighbor department, or you get crazy people.  I don’t recall ever having a neighbor in-between, and I’m not feeling so lucky here.

In Hawaii, I had a balanced mixture.  To the left of my house, a lovely little family of 4 lived, with a gentle-voiced, traditionally raised Japanese-American Mom, a laid-back Dad, and 2 precious girls.  The first day we moved in, Sweet Lady was on my doorstep with a freshly-made plate of mochi to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Of course my family, being the circus act we are, let 2 year-old Simon open the front door.  Buck naked.  It was hot; we’d just moved there from the cooler central coast of California, AND he was potty training.  Needless to say, we nearly lost that plate of mochi, but caught it just in time.  It didn’t help matters when Sweet Lady later invited my kids over to play.  I looked out my window to see Sweet Lady and her husband frantically hosing down the mattress of a queen-sized bed in their back yard.  Then naked boy appears out of nowhere and buries his face in my lap.  Turns out, naked boy was caught standing on Sweet Lady’s bed, PEEING.  Not the best way to make a good impression, but we are now 8 years into our friendship and still going strong.

On the other side of the house, lived the Scary Family. Let me start by saying Mom is a Hot Mess, Dad is tired out Mr. Italiano Americano chef guy, and children are absolutely wacked out beyond belief.  I’m not saying Mom is a Hot Mess just because I was jealous…while we were house-hunting in the area, before buying the house, we drove by her on 3 separate occasions, jogging in her black bra and tight shorts, tanned skin gleaming, long blond ponytail swinging. Stunning from behind. Shocking to find you’ve moved into the house next to hers.  Yes, I would like my husband to say, “Wow” if he ever saw me jogging 6 blocks ahead of his car.  However, up close and personal, the tanned skin was actually saddle leather, and the blonde 5 o’clock shadow on her chin and the low voice when she began to speak, startled us a bit.  Turns out, Hot Mess is a former bodybuilder, and I don’t think steroids completely leave your system—even decades after taking them.  Or maybe she was still taking them.  Anyway, Mr. Italiano Americano may have worn the pants in the family, but Hot Mess definitely wore the jock strap.

I am a Live and Let Live kind of a person.  You could live next door to me and make love to monkeys, for all I care.  As long as the monkeys seemed happy, I would let you go about your business and I would tootle away in my garden.  The problem with living next to Hot Mess was that her part time job at the hotel (yes, she worked for my furry guy, which ended badly and then she had more reason to hate me) gave her much time to get into my business.  I wanted to dig in my garden, read my books, and enjoy the peace and quiet.  Every single time I stepped into my back yard, I heard the slam of her patio door, and then her manly voice would call out, “SUSAN.  SUSAN!  I need to tawk to you!”  I lost count of how many times I had to tell her, “My name is Sue.  Just Sue.  My parents were lazy and maybe the name should have been Susan, but it isn’t.  It’s just Sue.” To no avail – I gave up after 2 years.  After calling me over, she would proceed to lecture me on whatever was her topic for the day.  My family has a little tradition of saying “I Love you” and kissing each other goodbye every morning.  Then whoever is waving goodbye has to wave until the others can’t see you anymore.  We’re just too wild and crazy, I know.  Well, Hot Mess told me one day, after the family had driven off to work and school, “You need to stop telling him you love him.  You’re a freaking doormat.  Men want a little mystery.  I don’t tell my husband I love him all the time.  In fact, I hardly tell him. Ya gotta keep ‘em guessing.  He’s gotta know that THIS fine package could walk away at any time so he’d betta treasure me.  Ya know?”  God, I wish I could say she smoked cigarettes, because everything about her was so loathsome to me that it would have been absolutely perfect if she had been taking giant drags off of her menthol cigarette and squinting her eyes through the smoke while she was bitching at me.

Anyway, for some inexplicable reason, she hated Sweet Lady.  It was odd, because her Psycho Son was known to do really fun things like locking Sweet Lady’s girls in garden sheds and torturing small animals with the knife collection that Mr. Italiano Americano supplied (“My BOY.  My boy is a MAN and real men have GUNS and KNIVES”).  If anything, Sweet Lady should have hated her.  No worries, though, that ended up happening soon enough.

Hot Mess was very much into her Chardonnay.  So much so that she had a rendezvous with an entire bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay every single evening.  It HAD to be Kendall Jackson – she was sooo proud that she could call herself a wine snob.  For Kendall Jackson, no less…go figure.  On some days, depending on how Psycho Boy was acting out, her evenings began at 3pm.  The neighborhood kids would play outside on the cul-de-sac, and she would sit on her back patio and sunbathe.  And drink.  And drink some more.  Psycho Boy had a little sister who had the misfortune of sporting a little black moustache.  Moustache Girl was Hot Mess’ PRECIOUS and God help you if you scorned her mustachioed Precious.  Moustache Girl liked to drive her battery-powered hot-pink Barbie Jeep all over the neighborhood, doing her best to run over every child she could, screaming and cackling.  Sweet Lady’s girls and my younger daughter Hanna (who later earned the nickname Assassin, but that is another story) would ride their bikes around the neighborhood and do their best to avoid becoming Barbie Jeep road kill.  One evening around 5, when Hot Mess must have been down to the bottom of her bottle of  oo-la-la Kendall Jackson Chardy, Moustache Girl went running to her mommy to scream that all the girls were SO MEAN cuz they wouldn’t play with her.  Sweet Lady and I are standing in my driveway chatting, watching the kids play, and Hot Mess comes tearing out of her house, resplendent in her animal print bikini, boobies bulging, her diaphanous genie-pants billowing, and her words slurring spectacularly.  She heads straight for the girls, yanks them off of their bicycles, and starts screaming, “YOU little girlz are bitchezzz.  BISHHHEZZZ!  You are NOT allowed to play with each other ever again – ever!  How can you be so mean to my baby?  She juz wanz to drive her car for Chrissssesake!”  You should have seen Sweet Lady morph into Protecto Mom in 2 seconds flat.  She runs over, plants herself between our girls and Hot Mess, stands up straight and tall and starts shaking her finger in Hot Mess’ face.  All I knew was that I was too scared to put myself between those two women, for fear that Sweet Lady would scratch out my eyes and Hot Mess would punch me in the face.  But I used my words, convinced Hot Mess to return to her bottle, and hugged Sweet Lady until her adrenaline rush had calmed down.  Desperate Housewives had NUTHIN’ on us, let me tell ya.  It was like I lived for 5 years with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  The scale finally tipped when Hot Mess was so horrible at work that my husband had to ask her husband to find a way to convince her to quit before she got fired.  Then venturing into my backyard got so unpleasant that I had to buy 2 dozen poplar trees to plant along the fence line so we could enjoy our time out there without the acidic looks and snide comments floating over to us.

Wait.  I started out by complaining about my current neighbors.  They are CAKE compared to Hot Mess.  Now I just need to shut up and calm down about their cigarette smoke coming up through the heating vents, their complaints that my children talk in the morning on their way to school…yeah, children talking – outrageous, right?  I need to be thankful that we live above them, not below them.  I need to be thankful that I can look out my windows at an unobstructed view of Lake Mildred and the Rocky Mountains.  I have no mochi and I have no Sweet Lady, but I also don’t have to hear, “SUSAN.  SUSAN!!!!! I need to tawk to you!”  And Kendall Jackson Chardonnay?  You have been replaced by Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse.  Cheers!

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