A Mother’s Love

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I’ve heard people say that it’s impossible to understand how much a parent loves his or her child until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Well, I wholeheartedly agree. Ever since I adopted my first son, Michael Cuddledog, in 1993, I’ve known what it is to love a child. I’ve known what it is to have a mother’s love.

From day one with Mikey (as we called him), I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for my son. His birth parents were teenagers and unable to care for the rambunctious infant that he was. To top it off, he was only one of a set of quintuplets. His birth parents were in over their heads, and I made a commitment to give Mikey the home that he deserved.

Of course, being seven-years-old myself at the time, I also enlisted the help of my own parents to help guide Mikey along. (This help was chiefly financial but also included taking the lead on everything that I didn’t “feel like doing”). It took a village to raise Mikey, and it also took patience and understanding on each of our parts. As a Cairn Terrier, Mikey was slightly different than the other members of our family, and there were times that we didn’t fully understand one another. For instance, we didn’t understand why a young boy would take such an interest in the dining room furniture, and he, in turn, didn’t understand why no one else peed on the legs of the kitchen table.

When Mikey was nearly three, his sister, Winnifred Midnight (Winnie) joined our family. On “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Dylan once tells Jim Walsh, “if you thought you had your hands full with Brenda, Valerie is a much bigger package with a much brighter bow.” I’ve always thought that this statement pretty accurately described what it was like to bring Winnie into the fold. Without elaborating further, I’ll simply say that I will forever and always scoff at anyone who claims to have a behaviorally challenged dog. We didn’t use our front door for eleven years.

I grew up with Mikey and Winnie and loved them so much that I’d been hesitant to adopt another child out of fear that I’d always hold my new baby up to the standards that my original kids had set. I could hear myself wondering, “why didn’t you eat the entire face off of my doll?! Your brother wouldn’t have left the nose!” Or, “there was a storm! Why isn’t there a big hole in the sheet rock of that wall? Didn’t you miss me as much as your sister always did?” The bar was set undeniably high, and I didn’t want to set my future children up for failure. I didn’t want any child to have to live in the shadows of the greats who came before.

The idea of adopting a new baby also gave me pause because a new and different dependent in my house also signifies a new and different life. Although Mikey and Winnie both died roughly four years ago, I still didn’t want to replace them. I didn’t want them to stop being my kids. Eventually though, I realized that they wouldn’t want me to be alone. They’d want someone around to watch out for me, and I was only hurting myself by not having a buddy to pick up dropped crumbs or shoo away any potential visitors. I knew the time was right to adopt again.

I’d be lying if I said that I instantly loved Lexie as much as I loved my other kids. After she tried to kill me by breaking my knee and attempted to sever my hand during her lurch towards freedom, there was a moment that I looked at her and thought, “I hope one day, you’ll really be mine.” I’m happy to report though that after two weeks, Lexington Sapphire Shores definitely is mine, and there is no doubt in my mind that the stork landed exactly where it was supposed to.

For starters, she doesn’t like it when people run up to her for a hug. Neither do I. She also laughs in the face of authority. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We have the same favorite colors, TV shows, and taste in music. Sure, I slightly prefer the Bangles while Lexie favors Bananarama, but we resolve conflicts like these peacefully. I always get my way.

Lexie has also taught me more in two weeks than I learned in fourteen years with my other kids. Being a single parent is a tough row to hoe. In fact, it’s the only row I’ve ever tried to hoe. I’m all the kid has. She relies on me for everything from food to toys to contact with the outside world. I choose her outfits, hair bows, radio stations, and friends. The level of responsibility is unyielding, and I’m forced to make every decision in her life with the knowledge that if ever I find her drinking beer and smoking cigarettes under the bleachers of the high school with a Rottweiler named Butch, I’ll truly only have myself to blame.

Because of my intense fear of Butch, I’ve had to completely change my life since Lexie came along. Long gone are the days of burning the midnight oil. In fact, as a latchkey kid, Lexie is alone much of the time, so I’m inclined to spend every minute with her that I’m not at work.  I can already tell that she’s starting to talk back and resents my busy schedule. Each morning though, as I turn on the classical radio station (this is to promote her brain development when I’m gone – I would never listen to that garbage), I remind Lexie that I have to work so that she can have food in her bowl, a costume for Halloween, and beautiful cashmere sweaters at Christmas. She usually nods understandingly as soon as “Christmas” is mentioned. In general, I find myself sacrificing the things that I might want in order to get her the best. The best sweatshirts, the best toys, the name brand Snuggie.

Because of all the money that I’ve shelled out on her behalf, Lexie has started to realized that she’s indebted to me and has warmed up in strides. She now runs to greet me when I get home and forgives me for the small mistakes that I’ve made. For instance, before I left to run errands last Saturday, I turned the adorable cartoon, “Horseland,” on for her to enjoy. Unfortunately, I was gone longer than expected and by the time I returned home, she had been left to watch football for nearly an hour. Let’s just say, we’re putting the incident behind us.

Lexie has also taught me how much of a reflection the child is on his or her parents. Forgetting about behavior momentarily, Lexie is incredibly good looking, and as her parent, her appearance is an obvious reflection on me. Therefore I’m to assume that I’m also incredibly good looking. At least, I figure that this is the way things work because as Lexie and I meet more and more canine children in the area and remark on how cute the child is, the parent often responds by saying, “thank you.” Lexie gets more compliments than most children, but I stop myself from ever saying, “thank you.” God painted Lexie. I didn’t.

To let your children sleep with you, to force them to sleep alone… that is the question. I’ve actually chosen secret option number three on this one. I no longer sleep in my bed. In fact, I’ve pretty much permanently moved to the couch where Lexie feels more comfortable and can easily jump up and down as needed. I encourage this. It’s really best to let the kid call the shots. In fact, is anyone looking to rent a room in Nashville?

To sum things up, Lexie is now my life. My life revolves around Lexie. This change is unusual for me as I’m typically more of juggler without becoming obsessed with one particular thing at any given time. Some of you might be wondering what I’ve been doing since I haven’t been watching (ahem “as much”) television, and the answer is, bonding with Lexie. And the longer answer is, I’ve basically had to quit that endeavor since raising a kid without television is like trying to catch a fish without bait. Just dumb. Really really dumb. For real. Speaking of TV, as college football continues, please consider cheering for Kentucky (in Lexington) or ideally Georgia (home of the Dawgs). Lexie and I don’t ever watch the games, but we always hope for our teams to win. And to all the other parents out there, keep doing what you’re doing. We certainly don’t get enough credit, but I’ve always believed that our children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.

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Lexington Sapphire Shores

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There are a few differences between my new canine child, Lexie (short for Lexington Sapphire Shores), and the previously mentioned, Go-Go My Walkin’ Pup.  The premier difference seems to be that Lexie pretty much refuses to walk whatsoever.  While Go-Go’s mother brags that she walks her “forwards and backwards too,” I’m forced to report that Lexie prefers to be carried from place to place on a bedazzled pillow, donning a tiara, and snacking on caviar.  In fact, this morning she asked me to fill her bowl with “part fresh squeezed Florida orange juice, part Dom Perignon.” Furthermore, Lexie also fails to show any interest in being tethered down by that thing called, “leash.”  In turn, Go-Go seems particularly attached to hers.

As you know, I’ve been looking for a dog friend for a while now (following an exhaustive lifelong search for human friends of course), so I was elated when I found out that Lexie was available. I was even more elated when I drove an hour-and-a-half in the pouring rain, picked a panicked Lexie up out of her cage in a nondescript trailer park, and made it home with both of us alive.  Throughout the drive, Lexie clung to my arm like a monkey, so I assumed that she’d already taken a shine to me.  She seemed to know that I’m her hero.  She seemed to know that I’m the kind of person Mariah Carey sings about.

Because I got her on Labor Day, Petsmart was closed by the time we got back to our neighborhood, so I rushed into Kroger for some of the essentials.  The “rescue group” had sent her home to me without so much as a rope let alone any kind of food or documentation.  In fact, when I asked which kind of food Lexie had been eating, the woman responded, “dry.”  I wondered if she was describing my sense of humor.  Yes lady, I know the food inside of the bag is dry, but are there by chance any descriptive words written on the outside that might indicate the specific type of “dry”?  “Whatever I have a coupon for.”  Perfect.

While I raced around Kroger like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, Lexie waited patiently in the car and seemed glad to see me when I returned.  Although clearly nervous, the pup behaved as though she already wondered which BFF necklace to get me for Christmas.  “Yep,” I said to myself, “if I had a pink bike, this is the kind of dog that could ride along with me in the sparkly basket.”  When I got home, I put on her new collar and leash (on her of course) and put her down in the grass for a little exploration.  I knew that being frightened and in a new place, she’d stick with me, her best buddy.

It goes without saying that Lexie took off like a shot.  The dog, who both up until then and since that moment, has refused to saunter two paces without being carried, hopped away like Thumper at a top speed rivaling Hussein Bolt’s.  I lunged at the leash trailing behind her and stepped on it with the precision of a seasoned pro.  At that moment, the “breakaway” cat collar that I had purchased lived up to its name.  Why did I buy a breakway cat collar, you ask?  The only answer I can provide here is that following Kelly Clarkson’s single of the same name, I must have had trouble giving the term, “breakaway,” the respect that it evidently deserves.  And for the real answer… the cat collar came in purple while the dog collars only came in red or black.  Like a person new to the planet, I figured, “well, what’s the difference?”  Take my word for it, friends.  The difference is a vast one.

So there I stood, in the dark and pouring rain, screaming, “Lexie” at an eight pound ball of fur who didn’t have the slightest clue that this term somehow referred to her.  It was as if someone started shouting, “moron,” at me and then became increasingly agitated when I failed to respond.   Meanwhile, a man standing nearby told me that Lexie could “sense my panic.”  If I hadn’t been so “panicked,” I would have taken the time to respond, “you’re right sir.  I’ll calmly stand still and simply wish for the best.”

I continued to chase after my new dog –  the dog who had never been inside her new home, had no tags, and who I had zero proof of ownership over – like a ballistic psychopath.  I had been in this situation at least three times before, and I vowed that if I ever got another dog, I would only get one that would never run away from me.  Ha.  “They” say that all dogs go to Heaven, and at that moment, I could hear Mikey and Winnie laughing their tails off at me.

After chasing Lexie around the yard for several minutes, I sensed I was losing the race and out of desperation, dove down into the mud with my arms outstretched… coming up empty-handed.  She was getting away!  Finally, I felt a temporary sense of relief when I chased her into the corner of a fence.  All relief vanished, however, when she started running through the small hole in the wood. As she darted through her passageway into the abyss, I hit the ground head first and grabbed onto her as though she were the final life raft and I had been traveling to America on the Titanic.  She retaliated by biting me ferociously.  We were both wet, cold, and muddy, and an excruciating pain targeted my right knee.  I could barely walk.  Lexie and I were off to a winning start.

Since that day, I’m happy to report that Lexie has already made strides.  She’s made friends with a few neighbor dogs and is now willing to sit on the couch with me for the length of an entire song.  But a long song.  Like something by Meatloaf.   She has a pink heart-shaped tag, beautiful hair bows, and the new middle name, Sapphire Shores.  So… I think we can all agree that she knew what she was doing when she tried to run away.

Although both “Lexington” and “Lexie” have their own special meanings, I’m guessing that “Sapphire Shores” isn’t a name that most of you are familiar with, so that’s the one that I’ll attempt to explain.  Although there are a few reasons that I went with it, the primary motivation came to me from Lexie’s cousin, Cupcake Sweetie-Pie Kremer.  Although, “Cupcake,” is an obvious selection that needs no introduction, it’s also the name of one of Hasbro’s My Little Ponies.  Ironically, so is “Sapphire Shores.”  And when I read that “Sapphire Shores is a famous popstar in Canterlot” and that “she premiered in the episode, ‘A Dog and Pony Show,”  I knew she was the pony for Lex’s namesake.  Later, when I found out that the pony “speaks with a loud and theatrical voice and frequently inserts  musical intonations into her sentences,” it was obvious to me that I had made the right decision.  Besides, sapphire is the stone of September, the month that we had our joyful homecoming.  Finally, to put the cherry on the sundae, I figured that if Lexington Sapphire Shores grows up to be a stripper, she won’t have to change her name.

Although four days later, I’m still not completely convinced that my knee isn’t fractured, I have to say that I love living with Lexie.  Sure, she’s not exactly potty trained and yes, she still seems a bit startled by my presence, but hey, who isn’t?  I know it won’t be long before she has a favorite Judd song and starts quoting Saved By the Bell in everyday conversation.  It won’t be long at all.

The Adoption Process

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Since I’m not watching television, one task that has kept me busy over the past week is my quest to get a dog.  It turns out though, that getting a dog in this country is tricky business.  For starters, we’ve been conditioned to believe that you might as well throw yourself into oncoming traffic if you don’t “rescue” your pet.  Breeders and pet stores seem to have become public enemies one and two, and the phrase, “how much is that doggy in the window” now comes with the implication that you’re a self-centered prick, totally unconcerned with the plight of the homeless in America.

Naturally, as they say, “there’s a sucker born every minute,” and I’ve wholeheartedly bought into this phenomenon – a mindset that I find interesting for two reasons.  The first being that my childhood Cairn Terrier, Mikey, came from a breeder.  Although Mikey put up a valiant effort to chew through our entire house like a termite during his first two years, he eventually settled in to become a calm and faithful companion – you know, the kind of dog that you could take on a walk around the neighborhood without the fear that he would tear away from his leash and literally kill the UPS delivery man.  Which brings me to my second point, our other dog, Winnie.  Winnie was a Black Lab mix, a “rescue.”  Although I loved her very much, and she did learn the difference between “shake left” and “shake right,” Winnie also displayed a few problem behaviors.  For instance, on one occasion she was so desperate to get to an electrician that she broke the windows in my parents’ bedroom, showering the unsuspecting repairman with a waterfall of glass that rained down upon him.  “Welcome to our home, sir!  Can I get you a spot of tea?” … And trust me, after ten years of life with Winnie, I have roughly 2,683 other stories nearly identical to this one.

Although I’d like to believe that I’m exactly the kind of moral and selfless individual who feels that there is no other choice but to bring my new pet in out of the rain, the subject of money has also weighed in on my thought process.  Money and time.  Finding a breeder and securing one of the puppies sounds like a long and expensive journey, and anyway, to quote Veruca Salt, “I want it now!”  I figured that “rescuing” my pet would not only be quick and cheap but would also evoke the warm and fuzzy feelings that I’ve done my part for dogkind.  Besides, purebred Mikey became sickly over his lifespan, and his expenses only grew with his age.  Naturally, as a family member, it was worth it to care for him – yada yada yada – but it seems to me that there might be a reason that in America, thirty-one states have a law against marrying your first cousin.  (Yep! Only thirty-one states.  And no, Tennessee isn’t one of them).

After a week of searching though, I’m here to report that as far as the time factor goes, all my “figuring” was dead wrong.  I’ve learned that the only quick way to rescue a dog is to pull one off the streets yourself.  Or take the one roaming around your neighbor’s backyard.  Otherwise, there are all kinds of adoption forms to fill out and references to provide.  That’s right.  References to provide.  When I showed up at my first pet adoption event, I momentarily chuckled when the man in charge told me to go ahead and fill out an application.  He didn’t wink back.  “Oh, you’re serious?”  I wondered. “It’s all good,” I tried to assure him of my qualifications, “I’m a human, and I want a dog.”  He continued to point to the application, and as I read through it, I wondered if I had inadvertently grabbed the form for adopting a child.  The ten pages were riddled with questions such as, “are you willing to submit to a home visit?” and, “why do you want a dog?”  It took nearly everything inside me to keep from responding, “just got the recipe for a new Korean stew.”

After I filled out my first round of applications, I was told that I’d been “pre-approved.”  By this point, nothing could shock me, and I assumed that my official approval would come as soon as my references had been thoroughly checked.  I quickly lunged for the phone and called everyone on the list, imploring them not to mention the time in 1995 when I forgot, for a day or so, that I was dogsitting for a neighbor.  I figured that any mention of that unfortunate incident and it’s off to the pet stores for me.

Another thing about the adoption process that’s caused a hiccup in the “happily ever after” tale of finding my long lost companion is that most of the dogs offered… well, let’s just say… aren’t exactly what I had in mind.  If you ever feel the need to be the biggest jerk in a room, go into a pet adoption event or a shelter and tell them that you’re looking for a cute fluffy dog that weighs less than twenty pounds.  Better yet, get real specific and ask them if they might have any Cockapoos or perhaps a Schnoodle available.  Yeah, that will land you in the popular circle in a jiff.

So, as you might have gathered, I’m still in search of my furry companion.  My free, small, curly dog that doesn’t shed, bark, or chew my things.  Or run away from me.  It’s just occurred to me that I’ve described Mattel’s GoGo Your Walking Pup, and I realize that I probably should’ve started my own dog search by rummaging around in my parents’ garage.

Just Say No!

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I’ve heard about this kind of thing before. Anxiety, depression, abruptly waking up in a cold sweat, longing for the vice that’s recently been removed from your life. I’ve seen “Celebrity Rehab,” so I know all about the effects that a detox can bring, but I never thought that this issue would apply to me. I’ve never thought that I’d experience the traumas of detox firsthand. Until now. Recently I’ve learned exactly what it is to “go cold turkey.” For the past five days, I haven’t watched any TV.

When I was in fourth grade, each student in my class was asked to monitor the number of hours that he or she spent watching TV per day. I won. By a landslide. Around this time, my mother enacted a two-and-a-half hour daily limit on the time that I could spend in front of the set. Believe it or not, this time restriction didn’t work for me. I either ignored her completely or insisted that the previous episode of “Hey Dude” had been a “to be continued,” so I had no choice but to see another and find out how the loose ends would be tied. I was hooked.

Every morning, before elementary school, my mom would wake me up at 6:30 to watch a half-hour of TV before getting ready to head to the bus stop. The show at this hour alternated between “Lassie,” “Free Willy,” “Tailspin,” “Bullwinkle,” and my own personal favorite, “Gummi Bears,” which I would watch while eating breakfast. At 7:00, “Under the Umbrella Tree” began, and this served as my cue to get my ass into gear for the school day. Sometimes I would fall back asleep, but I always knew I had screwed up if I wasn’t up and at ’em and “Under the Umbrella Tree” was on.

TV is the way that my day has always started, and for years, it’s also been my daily calendar. My parents religiously watched “60 Minutes” each Sunday night, and to this day, its tick-tocking theme song sends me into an instant panic as it signals weekend’s end. For this same reason, I can no longer watch any version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and I generally save “Desperate Housewives” for later on in the week. This way, when I begin to feel sick from the Sunday night blues, I can remind myself, “but it’s really Tuesday!” Talk about a great relief!  Wednesday continues to bring me warm memories of a Chick-Fil-A combo meal and Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream (and spitting the chips out into another bowl because they always got stuck in my teeth) and waiting all day in anticipation for 8:00 to hit. From 1996-2000, Wednesday was “90210-day” in my house and as such, it continues to be one of my favorite days of the week.

ABC’s TGIF lineup told me that there were two days without school ahead, and “Rescue 911” meant staying up extra late in the summer. I still sing commercials to occupy myself while waiting in lines or just as a way to annoy my co-workers, my favorites being one for Quaker Instant Grits and the jingle for the Suzi Stretch life-sized doll. I also continue to listen to theme songs and especially love a Carly Simon anthem used in a little-known Judith Light show called, “Phenom.”

Despite many efforts to get in on the action, I still don’t like “Cheers,” but this present-day feeling didn’t stop me from taking it very hard when the show went off the air in 1993. I was seven-years-old and had never seen it before but something about learning of this place “where everybody knows your name” and watching the final episode with my parents struck a chord in me. I sang the theme song on the bus the next morning and spent that day with the show on my mind. I didn’t just watch more TV than my peers, it also seemed to mean more to me. When “Seinfeld” ended six years later, I wrote epitaphs to it all over my trapper keeper in white out. “Serenity now.” Serenity now.

I was also a voracious reader as a kid, and I’ve always found it interesting when people suggest that books are superior to television. I can get behind the idea of “don’t watch TV, go climb a tree,” but I have trouble with, “don’t watch TV with your family, go up to your room and read some C.S. Lewis alone.” Don’t get me wrong, I love C.S. Lewis, but something about the superiority-complex that “scholars” hold over TV watchers has always irritated me. For this reason alone, it has taken me a long time to forge ahead with this experiment in fear that it will sound like I’m suggesting that television is bad for people. I certainly don’t think that it’s bad for people, but by the same token, I’ve wondered what it’s doing to me. I’ve wondered what I would find the time to do if TV wasn’t in the picture.

The main motivation behind this experiment (which is scheduled to proceed for 29 days, equal in length to my trip around America) stems from a blackout (as in power outage, not a result of too many Long Island iced teas) that I experienced in LA a little under a year ago. The power and cable were both out, and I couldn’t watch or record television for an entire night. I was distraught as there were shows that I felt I simply couldn’t miss! I read a bit by candlelight and went to bed angry, like a kid that had missed out on dessert. When I woke up though, something inside me had changed. I found myself hoping that the power would still be out when I came home from work that night. Not having to watch any shows had come to me as somewhat of a relief. Could it be? Could TV be a self-imposed burden on my life?

I ignored this question for the following year and continued to watch television in typical fashion, but I’m interested to see what I’ll end up doing with my time over the next few weeks. Naturally, there are a couple of reality shows that I’ll be saving on my DVR so that I’m not out of the loop forever. Something tells me that no matter what happens, the “no TV” clause won’t be a permanent fixture in my world. So far and in a largely unexpected twist, I’ve spent a lot of time reading Naomi Judd’s autobiography (she also drove through Texas and seems to appreciate fields), and I have strangely found myself missing shows that I haven’t seen in a while, like “My So-Called Life” and “Party of Five.” I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m hoping though, that at some point, I’ll proceed with the attempt to expand my horizons rather than simply use this time to move up the expert rankings in subjects that I already know. For instance, I’ve already been tempted to re-read my favorite novel, The Babysitters Club Super Special # 2, but then I reminded myself that the point of this experiment is to learn new things and to step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I’ll go out later and attempt to find Super Special # 3.

I’m also hoping that on day ten or eleven I’ll get the motivation to take up wood carving or learn to make lye soap. Then I won’t simply be a crazy person, I’ll be a crazy person with some skills. Whatever happens though, if this process doesn’t end with me chasing a small boy around the snowy woods like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I think that one way or another, I’ll come out slightly better in the end. Stay tuned as I come up with things to do! (Hint: “Muzzy” cartoon tapes in French don’t count as “watching TV” for the purposes of this experiment, and my 7th grade flute has already been freshly polished…)

Love Built A Bridge

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Oprah once told me that in order to get the things you want out of life, you need to explain to the universe exactly what it is that you are seeking. And so I did. Only in my case, I decided that the best time to share my request with the universe would be during a conversation that I had with a man who held the direct power to make my wish come true – like a genie. Or Simon Cowell. It’s not that I doubted Oprah, it’s just that I’ve always believed in covering my bases. Naturally, as Oprah had promised, the universe (by way of this man) came through, and suddenly there I was. There I was, face to face with Naomi and Wynonna Judd.

But of course, every story has a beginning, and my journey with The Judds goes back much further than our meeting. So, like any decent narrator, I’ll now take you back in time. Cue the wavy screen and fluttering music.

It was a beautiful spring in Los Angeles (this statement of course being a joke given the singular seasonal nature of Southern California), and everyone around me seemed happy. They might not have been happy in each particular moment of answering the phones or getting coffee or being told that they were a “complete idiot” or “the dumbest person alive,” but they were happy to be gliding down the paths to which they were affixed. To them, this choice of lifestyle was the only one that could possibly make any sense, and they wanted to be there. And they told me that I wanted to be there. And I told myself that I wanted to be there. And for a long time, I thought we were all telling the truth.

I knew how they felt. I remembered being in high school and hearing about a classmate’s plan to become a nurse and truly not comprehending any future career goal that didn’t involve working in television. “Sure, be a nurse,” I thought, “just be a nurse on TV.” I had told nearly every person I’d met from the time I was ten-years-old that I was going to move to Los Angeles and work in TV and stay there for the rest of my life and never ever, ever, look back. So you can imagine then, that when, after seven years of our relationship together, I began to feel like Los Angeles was wearing a ski mask and perpetually holding a plastic bag over my face, I became concerned. I’ve been cautioned never to stick around in an abusive situation, but deep down, I felt that LA really loved me, and I was scared to leave. For the first time, I couldn’t picture my future. The phrase “anywhere but here” entered my mind often, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around what “anywhere” would look like. I no longer had any sense of where I was going or what I would do when I got there. After all, I figured that LA would maintain ownership of the television industry in the divorce. I was finally grown up, but for the first time, I had no idea what I wanted to be.

Enter the duo Judd. Just as I was pounding my fists onto the ground and screaming, “GET ME OUT OF HERE” at the top of my lungs (this could be figurative), I slowly picked myself up when I heard Naomi Judd say something that no one around me “in real-life” ever seemed to agree with. “I sure could never live here, but it’s nice to visit for about three days.” Listen, that might not be the exact quote. I didn’t write it down. But I remember the gist loud and clear: there are people in this world who don’t want to live in LA, and at that moment, I felt ok being one of them. Later, I heard another quote credited to Naomi (actually spoked by Kathleen York in a TV movie… don’t ask too many questions here), “There’s got to be some place on this planet that feels like home.” Naomi seemed to have already voiced the chief thoughts that had been running through my mind, and something inside of me told me that I could also go to her for the answers.

Around this time, Judds music became my life’s soundtrack. I listened to “Old Pictures” and could see a house situated in a wooded area where my future family and I would sit around a camp fire on Friday nights, catching lightning bugs, firing BB guns, and sipping on boxed wine. (You too?). I started each morning with “Love is Alive,” and ended each night with “Flies on the Butter” and “River of Time.” I walked around the Warner Brothers lot wearing headphones, blasting “Grandpa” and “Mama He’s Crazy” into my ears. I completed a half-marathon with the constant echo of “Love Can Build A Bridge” and “Dream Chaser” guiding me along. They said “chase your dreams” and I found myself driving around the country, through twenty-nine states, listening to every song of theirs I could possibly find. They didn’t want to live in LA either. They understood me, and images of a different future started piecing themselves together like a puzzle in my mind. Sure, it was one of those puzzles that doesn’t really have any edges and has 547 pieces of blue sky, and you have NO IDEA where any of them go, but I could see the formation starting to take shape. I had the confidence to say, “I know where I’m going” and to leave the pieces that no longer belonged in my puzzle behind.

Through the course of my time in the world I have met a famous person here or there, and each time that I do, I’m reminded that someone famous is still someone. As Zack Morris once put it, “they put on their pants, one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.” But the subject of Mark-Paul Gosselaar brings up the loophole to my ho-hum “you’re rich and I’m not, who cares” attitude towards celebrities in that there is a handful of people who I feel have gone above and beyond in my world to change my life for the better. These people are the ones with whom I most want to share the joy of our “deep personal connection.” (This is how presidents get shot, isn’t it?) This list is short, but it does have tiers, and there are four people etched into the upper echelon. Three of these names end in “Judd.”

Because of this internal build-up to our theoretical future interaction, I was nervous the second I found out that I’d actually be meeting The Judds. My mind kept fluttering back to 1991 when I marched up to Jodie Sweetin’s autograph table only to be rendered completely mute. I had “Full House” sneakers and spent years of my life pretending to be Stephanie Tanner, but I couldn’t even conjure the words to tell her I liked her show. I certainly didn’t want a repeat of that disastrous episode, but at the same time, I didn’t want to startle The Judds with my enthusiasm. I’ve learned over the years that there’s a very fine line between “fan” and “psycho,” and the perception that I fell into the latter category was a very real concern of mine.

I’m also acutely aware of BFS, “Biggest Fan Syndrome.” Many fans feel that the celebrity at hand has played a more integral role in his or her life than the celebrity could have possibly played in anyone else’s. This condition is something I attempt to skirt to the best of my ability as people riddled with this disease have, as far as I can tell, generally lost all touch with reality. I was privy to a firsthand look at the effects of BFS on the night of The Judds show when some other concert-goers realized that I had a backstage pass in my possession. For instance, one woman kindly informed that my ownership of the pass “really wasn’t fair” because she and her daughter had been singing Judds songs together since 1988. “Tough luck, lady,” I thought, “bring it up with the universe.” (I failed to mention to her that my father, who also had a backstage pass, had asked me on the drive over if any of the Judds have children…)

To me, BFS is one of the first signs that a person is starting to leave “fandom” and is teetering on the verge of entering “psycho’s” territory. Even with TV shows that I loved as a child (see: “Beverly Hills, 90210”), I’m careful to remember that I wasn’t the lone viewer and that I’m not getting a check in the mail each time an episode airs. These shows aren’t really mine. And so too, with The Judds, I avoid phrases such as, “you can’t understand how much they mean to me,” or “I can’t even put my love for them into words.” Because you can understand. Many people understand. And these are the words. Putting my love for them into words is exactly what I’m doing.

As excited as I was for the thirty second encounter that I’d have with the people who sang me home to my new life in Tennessee, I was equally nervous. Luckily, I’d spent the week prior to the show on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard which came as a welcomed distraction. For several days I hung out with my family, played with my nieces and nephew, and relaxed in the perfect tranquility that is a New England summer. Just as I was enjoying my last night and preparing to leave, a day ahead of the group, in order to make it to Oklahoma for The Judds show within plenty of time, my dad called. My flight the next morning had been canceled. As far as I was concerned, everything was completely unraveling, and I completely unraveled with it. I lost my mind.

Through the tears and panic, I rationally told my father that I would take a ferry back to the mainland and drive to Oklahoma because “THERE’S NO WAY I’M MISSING THIS!” He encouraged me to stay the course, and I ended up on a later flight, landing in New York just a couple hours later than I was originally supposed to. I took three planes back to Nashville and then drove 375 miles to Conway, Arkansas to spend the night before meeting my dad the next morning and completing my ten-hour drive together. Although, as far as travel was concerned, things ultimately went off without a hitch, my heart skipped a beat when my flight into Nashville was overbooked and a woman holding a cooler that contained a vital organ had been bumped from the flight. As she informed anyone within earshot that she was “literally holding someone’s life in her hands,” I thought to myself, “Right. But I’m going to meet The Judds. There will be a later flight for you.”

My dad and I made it to the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma and picked up our tickets and passes that read “artist guest” on them. “Wow,” I surmised to myself, “they let me into Heaven after all.” Along with our passes came the instructions to be on the left side of the stage by 8:20pm, giving us another two-and-a-half hours to kill. As nervous as I was in this situation (having to walk up to a person and say hello), I wondered how I’d even made it to this point. Surely, I’d been forced to say, “hello” to people before but for some reason in this moment, I had trouble coming up with the word.

Finally, the time came, and my terror only increased when we were queued up backstage and Naomi and Wynonna walked into the room. For a brief moment, I thought I might pass out which upset me because I figured that in a case like that, I’d miss the show. Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from anxiety attacks. Even when I want to read something in front of the class and feel comfortable with the group before me, my hands start shaking as soon as I get to the front of the room. It’s a problem that only healthy doses of whiskey has seemed to have had any effect on, yet I realized that sadly I’d left my whiskey at home.

I scurried to think of a lead-in joke or something to say. The idea of a “meet and greet” is one of life’s great oxymorons because on one side, you have a person who will tell the story of this meeting until death puts it out of its misery, and on the other side, you have professionals eager to get on stage and leave the roomful of bumbling fools behind. For me though, for the fool, this moment is the one that all of my discussions with the universe had led up to. I needed to think of something to say.

Instead though, somewhere in the middle of the line, I decided to wing it. This strategy was quite out of the ordinary for me as I’ve already prepared several versions of the speech that I’m planning to deliver at the Emmy’s. I elected to “just say whatever comes to mind,” which turned out to be, “I drove here from Nashville, pretty ironic, huh?” As soon as I’d said it, I wanted to take it back. Nashville was 700 miles east of where we currently stood, and they knew exactly how far it was given the “irony” that I’d referenced – that they had driven from Nashville too. I suddenly felt like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female. I wanted to follow-up with, “you don’t understand, I drove eight hours to see the field from A League of their Own…. I’m generally crazy! I’m not stalking you!” But instead, I forged ahead through the valley that I’d created in somewhat of a foggy haze.

I couldn’t really tell you exactly how things progressed from that point, but I can tell you that The Judds turned out to be the heroes that I’d always known them as. Friendly, polite, and seemingly genuinely happy to be there. I was thrilled. The show was as great as I’d expected, and I got exactly what I wanted out of the night – a story to tell my future kids as they catch lightning bugs, run around the campfire, and dance in the living room with Judds concert tapes playing on the big screen (afterall, this is still my dream, right?).

In addition to the trick about the universe, Oprah says that there is no such thing as a coincidence, and I do believe that Glinda the Good Witch sent The Judds into my life as a reminder to aim high and think big. Oprah also instructs believers to “always look for the lesson,” and I definitely took one home from my trip to see the show. If I really want to get something out of life, it’s worth it to make it happen. I might not always be an “artist guest,” but I can always do my best to show up for the things that matter to me. Yes, I had to take three planes, and yes, I had to drive 1400 miles round trip, and yes, this sounds a little excessive, but I wanted to see The Judds perform and that was the part I cared about. The hassle that came along with achieving this goal was much less important to me.

I hope that throughout the years I maintain a glimmer of this adventurous spirit (universe, this is me talking to you), and I hope that one day Dunkaroos go back into production. Dunkaroos are really the perfect afternoon snack – cookies that come with a compartment of frosting, and I think that if we all pool our pull with the universe together, we can probably get them going again. And besides, I think Oprah would enjoy the occasional package of Dunkaroos too…

One Month Later

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Current Location: Nashville, TN

Hi again! Are you there everyone? It’s me, Margaret… no no, that’s not right… uh, anyway…. I hope that everyone has been doing well in the month since we last spoke, and since you all were so nice in sharing in my travels with me, I wanted to give you an update as to what it is exactly that the nomadic life has panned out to… Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen!

One month ago tomorrow, my parents and I loaded up the car (a different car at that), and left Massachusetts for Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re picturing us sipping lemonade, wearing white gloves, and casually laughing as the breeze catches our hair in a scene that’s in anyway reminiscent of Grace Kelly riding in a convertible circa 1952, well… you’re not picturing the right thing at all. If instead, you see a Ford that wishes it were an actual SUV equipped with a full-sized couch, that my mother proudly purchased from Macy’s in 2001, clutching onto the roof with all its might… let’s just say, you’re a little bit closer.

It will be one month ago tomorrow that my father encouraged me to be his faithful assistant as he prepared to move said couch down a very narrow and winding flight of stairs while explaining to me that he would simply hoist it into the roof of the car, throw on a little rope, tie a couple of knots and botta bing botta boom, ride into the sunset for 1,100 miles. If any of you have wondered what it is that made me think that I could drive 6,500 miles over the course of a month, I present you with this very line of thinking. I present you with my father.

It took us three hours to get the couch out of my parents’ townhouse, and afterwards, my father appeared as though he had just run wind sprints through the Mohave. At best, it was a tenuous scene, and at worst, it hindered on an all-systems meltdown. The stress only crescendoed hours later when we hit traffic outside of New York and traveled just 200 miles within the first five hours. Just when we thought we were home free, my mother got out of the car at a truck stop in Pennsylvania only to find that part of the couch’s tarp evidently liked New York so much that it decided to stay there. Over the course of the trip, two hours, three rolls of duct tape, bungee cords, and too many feet of rope to count became dedicated to “tarp repair.” You know how adults often say things to kids like, “I bet you can’t clean up your toys in less than ten minutes” or, “there’s no way that you can be quiet throughout the whole service at church?” Right. Well, that technique still works on my father. He’ll get anything done that you want as long as you tell him that he’ll never be able to do it. Suffice it to say, I’m sitting on this very couch right now in my new apartment and truth be told, I never envisioned it any other way.

After my couch and I settled into my apartment, I started to realize that I was the only one hanging around the pool during the day. It turned out that the other tenants were spending their days making money, at something they call, “work.” I’ve been taught to avoid all four letter words, so I didn’t immediately leap into action towards living my life with days spent at “work,” but I was getting a little bored sitting around my apartment. It turns out that a person really can only watch “Thelma and Louise” so many times before realizing that they will end up driving off that cliff. Every. Single. Time. So when WME, the company where I worked in LA, offered me a job in their Nashville office, I was ecstatic. (Sure, “ecstatic,” might be laying it on a little thick, but you never know, some of them might be reading this… Love you co-workers!).

Now that I have some amount of money coming in, I’ve decided that I can finally part with the moving boxes that I’ve been storing in the corner of my living room. As long as I was unemployed, I figured they’d be a good back-up to apartment living, but it seems that I can finally throw them away (sorry, “recycle them” just didn’t seem to do it there). As far as the adjustments to life in Tennessee, I have to say that for some reason, there haven’t been any. I miss my friends in LA, but aside from that, I feel like a formerly beached whale finally thrown back into the sea. Of course, the heat takes a bit of getting used to, but luckily, I’m an indoor cat, and central air suits me pretty well. I do miss working in TV, but I love country music a lot, so it’s been almost as exciting to be part of this business. Of course, I don’t dance, I don’t sing, and I don’t “have the rhythm in me,” so my role in this arena is somewhat undetermined. I will say though that not having any definitive goals really does take the pressure off.

Somethings have changed for me in my life here though. For instance, I can now afford to live on my own, so my dream of becoming a recluse is slowly but surely coming to fruition. I can also drive to a place that’s twenty miles away and complete the round-trip within an hour. I know this because today I drove to Franklin to pick up a second VCR that I saw on Craigslist during my lunch break. At my job here, I leave work everyday at 6:00 and make it home ten minutes later. You might think that this sounds like a good thing, but I’m actually putting this one in with “over 100 degrees at 9:00 pm” due to the fact that none of the good TV shows come on until 8:00, leaving me with roughly two hours to stay entertained.

Overall, looking back on my decision to take the trip across the country and to move back to the Southeast, I have to say, that it wasn’t a difficult one. It took me a long time to get to the point where I was ready to leave California, but once I decided to go, I no longer felt that I had made a choice. I felt as though I was doing what I had to. Whether or not this sentiment is accurate can be debated, but I’ve learned throughout this experience, more than anything, to follow the advice that I received personally from Sheryl Crow many years back. “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” The memory of the trip continues to make me happy, and I think that it will always serve as my personal reminder to go in the direction that I feel the wind is blowing me. As long as the wind isn’t blowing me towards crack dens or dark alleys of course.

On my favorite TV show, “Beverly Hills 90210,” Kelly rejects both Brandon and Dylan in one fell swoop with the three simple words, “I choose me.” Naturally, Kelly was always a very selfish character, but in the one life that I’ve been given to lead, I’ve decided that this philosophy isn’t all bad and that doing what I want to is sometimes better than following a shepherd’s advice. Of course, it’s also been said on “90210,” that “may the bridges I burn light the way,” and there are some days that I toy with the idea of making that statement my motto instead.

In the last month I’ve pretty much just been unpacking, buying VCRs, and working away. Two of my co-workers also live in my apartment complex, and it’s been fun hanging out with them and getting to know the area. I have to say though that my instinct tells me that there are still several honky tonks out there just waiting for me to grace them with my presence. The upcoming month will be a big one for me as well. I’ll be going on a family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard (“hey new job, can I have a week off?”) and then following that, I’ll be making another great migration eleven hours west to see my all-time favorite singers perform. You guessed it. The Judds. Stay tuned for the outcome of that excursion as well! I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer, and if you ever make it to Tennessee, I’ll have some Jack Daniels with your name on it. Now it’s time for the first episode of season four of “The Jersey Shore” – it’s true, I guess… somethings never change!

Day 30 – July 2

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Thank you so much for reading my blog and sharing in my journey over the past 30 days! I felt this way in the beginning, and it never ceased to be true, having you all on this trip with me has made the experience that much better.  When I started out, on June 3rd, I had no idea of exactly what I was going to find.  I had recently quit my job, working in TV, the field that I had always be certain that I would work in forever, and I had decided to move across the country to Tennessee, a place that aside from the good old Chattanooga Aquarium, I didn’t know much about.

The thing that I did know though was that for a long time, I had wanted to drive around the country.  I would use the term, “across,” but in my mind, that implies heading directly to the other side.  I didn’t want that much focus involved in my trip, and I wanted to get a good look around at America.  There are so many things here that I hadn’t seen, and I liked the idea of driving for days on end.  Just driving.  Maybe that’s a hint to become a truck driver or better yet, follow in Danica Patrick’s footsteps by setting my sights on NASCAR.

I made lists of things in America that I wanted to see.  They were pages long.  Each day I would think of something else, and then someone would tell me about yet another thing that I didn’t know of or hadn’t thought about yet.  Finally, I started to map my journey and it became clear that there were somethings that I’d have to let go of.  The saddest of these things for me continues to be Mount Rushmore, something that was a high priority on my original list.  (Followed ever so closely, of course, by the Mall of America).  At first, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to make it to everything that I wanted to visit, but then I became happy about it.  America is such a vast country with so many points of interest.  I realized that not seeing everything in one swoop would allow me to explore the nation over my lifetime.  And of course, this means that I also have a similar trip of northern America to look forward to one day.

Over the past thirty days, I have driven through twenty-two states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as well as through Washington D.C.  Over the course of this trip, I have spent time in fifteen cities and driven a grand total of 6,514.7 miles.  Some of you might me wondering what that mileage total equates to in gas expense and the answer is $722.47.  As far as the other expenses that I’ve incurred, I don’t even want to total those up.  I will tell you though that my Dolly Parton shirt was a very reasonable $19.99.

Before I left for the trip, I told my friend, Danielle, about my plan to forge ahead without a navigation system.  She asked me how I would get from place to place and I replied, “I don’t know.  I feel like I’ll find it.”  So the real question, I guess is, did I in fact, find “it”?  And in some ways, I suppose, I think that I did.

The thing that I found out about America is that it’s an absolutely beautiful country with some of the most amazing people in the world.  In each place that I visited, I was met with kindness and hospitality, and in each place that I visited, I found out something wonderful or charming about the location.  There was not one state or city that I went to and left disappointed.  I was met with frustrations like Chicago’s traffic or looking for my car in New York City, but each place felt uniquely like America to me.  I loved them all in spite of any issues that I ran into, and in more than one city, I thought to myself, “I’d like to live here one day.”

The other thing that happened on this trip is that I stopped seeing each state and city with its own identity or as part of a larger region that had its own identity.  I started seeing America and seeing the little pieces that make it into the greatest puzzle I know.  The truth is that we actually need all of the pieces.  It’s easy to say, “I hate that place” or “I wish we could get rid of those states,” but ultimately, we’re all one family with a common goal.  Each state has something to bring to the table, and each state wants to be at that table.  The thing that perhaps struck me most about my travels is the amount of American patriotism that I found across the country.  Each place sports huge American flags and reminders that we truly are “one nation under God.”  One nation.  No matter where you go, the general consensus of everyone here is that we all love America.

As I drove from one coast, through the Midwest, and then up the other coast, it also occurred to me that America doesn’t seem as big as I once felt that it was.  There I was, in one state after the next, driving my little car that I had in LA.  It felt less remarkable with each passing day as I started to realize that things aren’t as far as they seem, and the people across the country aren’t as different as you might think they are.  For the most part, everyone loves this country, they love their families, they love their cities, and they’re happy in them.  This trip reminded me to compare little and accept much.

As far as for myself, the thing that I found out above all others is that no matter where I go, there I am.  For the past several years, the achievement that I’ve hung my hat on is that I’ve seen every episode of every location of every season of the Real Housewives, (no really, no applause necessary), and this fact continues to be true.  No matter where I was, this remained the one show that I tried to catch whenever I got the chance.

Beverly Hills, 90210 is still my all-time favorite, I still love it as much as I did when I was eleven years old, and I still hope and wonder if maybe one day that will change.  I suppose, as time goes on, it looks less and less likely that it ever will.  Throughout the trip, with no deadlines or outside commitments, I still couldn’t stand to be late for or not comply with the plan that I had laid out for myself.  I still wanted to be on a schedule.

No matter where I was physically located, I still hated both ricotta cheese and strawberries.  I still didn’t have any interest in reading fiction books, always opting for true stories within non-fiction.  My favorite television character is still Lorelai Gilmore, and my favorite sports team is still the Atlanta Braves.  I still love the Olympics, I still hate techno music, and I still don’t think that Ross and Rachel were truly on a break.

Everywhere that I went expanded my horizons, but even though my surroundings were different from one day to the next, it was still me there within them.  I’ll always be from Georgia, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for LA, and no matter where I am, I’ll always look forward to seeing my nieces and nephew again who will always be my favorite people to visit.  I’m never going to be able to keep my opinions to myself, and it seems as though I’ll always have a lot of them.  I’ve now seen Bridesmaids three times, and this trip has led me to side with the philosophy of Kristen Wiig’s character, “people grow, but they don’t ever really change.”  And at the end of this particular journey and every journey, it’s still me on the other side.

Today, my family and I participated in a boat parade on the lake on which my parents live.  Upon me was bestowed the grand honor of being the bald eagle for the pre-4th of July celebration.  At one point, my oldest niece, Louisa, looked at me and said, “those people are laughing at you!”  And I was glad that I had the foresight to be the loudest one laughing.  I looked ridiculous in that bird suit, it was ninety degrees, and I was dressed in fur.  But there we all were, my nieces holding up the torches for their Statue of Liberty costumes until their arms hurt.  All for the sake of honoring our country, all for the sake of being with friends and family to celebrate America.  Today was definitely the cherry on top of my trip, and it made me realize that no matter where I go, or what I end up doing with my life, I hope I’ll always have days like this one.  I hope that, in one way or another, I can always be the loudest one laughing.

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