Friday, January 28, 2011

A Horse's Race

Way back before the hubby was "the hubby", and he was simply "the guy I just started seeing" he occasionally played the ponies.  Seems that a man he worked with had the inside scoop at the local horse track, and they would stop by on the way home from work.  I had never been before, so one night we went.  With just one glance I knew right off which horse I would be betting on.  Big Courage.  With a name like that, the horse was destined for greatness, I figured.

     "That horse is a loser.  It's never won.  Look at the odds.", my future husband told me.  Since I had no idea what he was talking about my response was pretty quick.

     "I don't care about any of that.  Look at his name.  Big Courage.  I want to bet it all on him."

     "Bet it all on a horse that loses every time?  Are you sure you want to do that?"

And so, while the man that would one day win my hand in marriage, waxed poetically about things like "the odds" and "win, place or show", I listened wide-eyed, hanging on his every word.  And waiting for him to finish speaking so that I could say, "Did you see that guy with the waffle fries?  Those are my favorite.  Let's go get some."

I couldn't be talked out of betting on Big Courage.  It could be true that race horses don't earn their names by displays of their personalities.  It could be, but I wasn't betting on it.  Surely, a horse with a name like Big Courage had the heart of a winner.

We settled in to watch the race.  The gates open and my horse is slow to leave.  It appeared that he got spooked.  While everyone cheered for their picks, no one within earshot was calling out for Big Courage.  I alone cheered that big, brown horse in last place.  And then, like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, Big Courage gained some ground.  He passed one horse and then another.  The other horses appeared to be moving at the speed of snail.  Big Courage passed them all.  All but one.  A giant black horse that reminded me of my favorite childhood story, Black Stallion.  Blackie, I'll call him, was in the lead and he wasn't willing to give it up.  Big Courage tried his best.  Blackie lead by barely the length of his own body, but it was a distance that had to be breached if Big Courage wanted to cross the finish line first.  As it became clear that only two horses were in line to win, the crowd changed their chants.  Everyone that had already lost their bets took up the cheer for Big Courage.  As unlikely as it seems that the horses could understand what was going on in the stands, it really did appear that the two competitors were responding to the crowds.  Blackie fiercely fought for his hold on first place.  You could see it in the display of rippling muscles, the way he held his head, the tension filled posture of the jockey.  Big Courage appeared to be flying with his hooves never touching the ground.  The two were neck and neck.  The finish line loomed up ahead.  As hard as those two horses raced, as seamlessly as the two jockeys made themselves one with their mounts, as great a race as it was, in the end there can only be one winner.  And we had to wait to see who that winner would be.  A photo finish.  The crowd held a collective breath.  When the photo popped up on that screen the place went wild.  Somehow, someway, Big Courage had taken the lead at the last possible second.  He won the race. 

In the stands I was going wild.  Jumping up and down, I grabbed my guy's shirt and shook him like a little rag doll, screaming in his face the whole time.  The funny thing was, in those first minutes, I wasn't excited because I had won some money.  I was screaming for Big Courage.  Because as that horse stood in the winner's circle with a necklace of roses draped around his neck, it really did look like he was smiling and holding his head up high with pride.  It was easy to imagine that Big Courage knew he was getting his moment in the sun.  As if, all along he had been waiting for the chance to show someone what he was made of.  And, given the chance he rose to the occasion.  Big Courage, indeed.  I now realize it was himself he had been wanting to prove some thing to.

This is the true story of my first experience with a horse race.  The next time we went to the race track it was several months later, and the hubby had gone from "the guy I just started seeing" to "the one".  We joined in with a few friends that were going to a different race track.  It was a pretty boring day.  No great horse races.  No high winnings. No waffle fries.  It was the last time I ever went to a racetrack.  Nothing could ever compare to that first trip and I didn't want to try.  Now, every May, my husband's step dad places some bets on the horses competing in the Kentucky Derby. He assigns us each two horses and we all sit around the t.v. waiting to see who will win.  After all, we do live in Kentucky, y'all.  I've never won again.  Just that one time I took a chance on a horse, that in print seemed like a loser, but had the heart to match his name.

I tell this story because of something that I did this week.  I sent off a query letter to a literary agent in regards to a child's story that I wrote.  The story has been sitting in a drawer in my nightstand for years.  I've been afraid to let it see the light of day.  Afraid that if I try to sell it I will find out that it's not as good as I think.  Afraid that my fears will be realized and it will be proven I've no talent for anything.  You see, in print it would appear that I'm a long shot to win.  I've never been published.  And, after several interviews for jobs it seems that I have no real marketable skills, either.  But, like that horse from sixteen years ago, I've got some big courage and I'm going to chase that childhood dream of mine.  I'm going to prove to myself what it is I'm made of.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In The Beginning There Was Chicken

"Original or Extra-Crispy?"

This is a phrase that I said hundreds of thousands of times.  Back when KFC was still proud to call themselves Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Back before "deep-fried" and "grease" became dirty words.  Back when I was a sixteen year old girl who didn't know what she would grow up to be.

As a girl, growing up we weren't exactly wealthy.  I knew that anything I wanted, like brand name clothes or a car, would have to be earned on my own.  A week after I turned sixteen, legal working age back then, I took myself off to find work.  Don't ask me how I decided on Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It wasn't even in my neighborhood.  I didn't know anyone that worked there.  It was the very first place I put in an application.  Two weeks later I became a cashier at the chicken place.  The job lasted a year and half.  An eon in the fast-food world.  No other job has taught me as much, to be honest.

There was a cast of characters that were unfamiliar to me.  Mean girl, who delighted in being snobby to the newbies.  Playboy, who had peaked in junior high and a few years past dropping out of high school was using the restaurant as his personal dating service.  Cool and aloof manager who seemed to always be looking around the kitchen and wondering how she got there.  The assistant manager, whom having risen to the peak of her career, was going to help others do better and get farther.  Learning to get along with everyone, or avoid the ones I couldn't,  was the best lesson life could teach me. 

In case you've ever wondered - yes, we totally would drop your biscuit or chicken on the floor and then pick it up and toss it in your box anyway. We also switched out expiration stickers on the dessert cups that we wanted.  Same with the little sandwich snackers.  Despite taking food before it's time, I took my job very serious.  Most of the time.  Very quickly, I learned that if I worked hard and did my best, the powers that be took notice and rewarded me with pay raises, as well as increased responsibility.  Just as quickly, I learned that if my parents grounded me I could always pretend that I had to work and then go hang out with my friends.  As long as I was home shortly after quitting time they were never the wiser.

It's been some time since I've thought about that first job of mine.  I'm glad I got the chance to take this stroll down memory lane thanks to a writing prompt by Almost There.  The girl I was back then knew things that the woman I am now has forgotten.  Such as, it doesn't really matter where you work or what your profession is.  All that matters in the end, is that you do your best and take pride in your work.  And, when you're asked, "Original or extra-crispy?"  take one of each.  They're both equally tasty.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Of Friends and Enemies

I have an archenemy.  I'm not a comic book character, but I have an archenemy.  A vile one that gets the best of me sometimes.  My own self-doubt is my worst enemy.  Most times, I manage to beat it down into submission.  To send it running off into hiding.  But, then like any determined villain, it is back.  Stalking me through darkened alley ways.  Jumping out from behind a bush and overpowering me. Time to send up the bat signal.

When the beacon is lit with the questioning, "Anyone want to help me out here?"  there is always an answering response.  It comes in the form of my best friend.  And, it's always a, "Yes". 

This past week and a half has been a difficult one.  There is no need for life to pile on the hurts, and yet it doesn't seem able to help itself.  Within the past week and a half I have been laid off from my full-time job that I've held for five years.  Lost my aunt in a car accident on an icy road.  And, the trifecta was receiving my rejection letter from a company that I had interviewed with.  Oh, and did I mention that I am turning forty in a few weeks? 

The rejection letter came in the mail last night.  My husband had just left for work.  My son was waiting for his friend to show up for a sleep over.  I fetched the mail and knew what it was as soon as I saw the return address.  And, don't you know, it was all just too much.  I stood in my kitchen, hiding from my son (only extreme hunger and dehydration brings him in the room where possible chores await) and cried my eyes out.  I cried for the denied job that I had wanted so badly.  I cried for the aunt with whom I spent so many weekends camping and boating.  I cried for the fact that I wasn't given a severance and unemployment won't be finished processing my claim for at least a month. 

Now, I'm not a selfish person.  And, if there is anything in this world I love to share it is my misery.  So, I sent texts to my husband.  Frantic, hysterical texts.  He was at work and isn't allowed to use his phone or the company phone.  But, I think he enjoys hearing from me all the same.  Next, I gladly shared my misery with my friend.  Texts again.  I didn't want to talk.  I don't like people to actually hear or see me cry.  Reading about it in a text is fine, though.  Instantly she responds to my bat signal.   I won't bore you with the details but, on my part it went mostly like this, "Why? Why?  I'm so pathetic.  I'm a loser.  Why? Why?" 

Then I cut to the chase.  The whole painful part about all this is the fact that I won't be able to provide my son with the things I want for him.  Not anytime soon.  While the boy faithfully watches commercials of Nickelodeon cruises and Disney World trips and dreams of his summer vacation, I am mired in reality.  There will be no vacation this summer.  No trips to the movies or out to dinner or special treats just because.  One of the last texts to her says it all for me, "I just want to be able to give my son a better life than what I had."  The response, "U ALREADY HAVE!!" is like a slap to my face.  Snap out of it, girl.  I wipe away the tears and go find my boy.
     "Do you know that your mommy and daddy love you?  And always will no matter what?"
     "Yeah."
     "Do you know that your mommy and daddy love each other?"
     "Yeah."
     "Do you think that your house is a happy place?"
     "Yeeaahh.", he is beginning to be wary of my popping up with a bunch of weird questions.  "I always have a lot of fun here every day.", he says simply.

I smile.  Maybe my son's happiness has as much to do with the Xbox as it has to do with his parents, but I'm taking it.  My friend who knows me as well as I know myself is correct.  I have accomplished the most important goal I have ever set for myself.  My name is Angii.  I'm unemployed.  I'm overweight and have too many gray hairs in my head.  I have no future prospects.  But, I have a son who's the member of a happy and loving family.  And, I have a friend that helps me vanquish my enemy.  If only I could wear that Wonder Woman costume and look good doing it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

All I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned At The Amusent Park

Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting for it to be your turn. 

When you find yourself going around in circles it's nice to see a familiar face greeting you with a smile and a wave.

If things start getting too hot, find some shade and retreat to take a breather.

That first hill you've got to climb up is usually the largest and takes the longest.  

There will always be large crowds that you have to navigate your way through.

In times of frayed nerves and crankiness, a giant ice cream cone covered in sprinkles hits the spot.  Every time.

It's always better with a friend or loved one sitting in the seat next to you.

Sometimes, there is nothing left to do but grab the hand of the person next to you, and scream your lungs out.   

Enjoy the view from the top.  The time there is limited.  But, with the right attitude, the rest of the ride is even better than the journey to that point.

Some rides will leave your feet dangling above the ground.  Some will toss you upside down, or can leave you backed in the corner, being bumped into by friends and strangers alike.  

You can choose a ride based upon what you can see of it, what you see of the people in line for it, and what others before you have said about it.  Until you hop on that ride for yourself, you have no real idea what to expect.

Even if you think you know what to expect, that quick dip down and sharp turn to the right will still take you by surprise and leave you breathless.

Hold onto anything you don't want to loss when the ride takes off.

It doesn't hurt to ask if you can stay on for one more time.  You might get told no.  Or, you may be given another spin.

It's hard to know how long a ride will last.  Some seem longer than others.  Some go by so fast it's disorienting.  No matter what, we almost always wish the ride had lasted just a little bit longer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Myth vs. Reality

Caught up in that all encompassing bliss that is pregnancy; I was brimming with hopes, dreams, and expectations for both my new baby and my new life as a mom.  Turns out not all of them were grounded in reality.

Myth:  My husband and I would take all those wonderful classes on breathing techniques and pain management.  "No epidurals for me." I often stated.  
A friend warned, "That's what I said.  I was wrong.  I totally needed one."
"You'll change your mind.", my sister-in-law predicted.  "Nope.  I can handle a little pain.", I replied with smug superiority.

Reality:  Pre-term labor hit the night before our first class.  With each contraction getting stronger I literally begged for an epidural.  The on-call doctor thought she could halt the labor and denied me my pain relief.  Nine hours later when my doctor took over, his first words were, "Let's get you comfortable.  You can have the epidural, now."  I tell you, I cried real tears.

Myth:  No co-sleeping or rocking baby until he fell asleep.  The little dear would be placed in his bed, mobile gently spinning and singing a lullaby as he drifted off to slumber land all on his own.  Probably with a smile on his little cherub face. 

Reality:  The little dear arrived, shouting out, "Sleep?  Who needs sleep?!"  After several months of negotiation we worked out a deal.  We agreed to keep the car moving, even if it meant running all red lights, and he agreed to sleep.

Myth:  Becoming parents would not change the relationship my husband and I share.  We would schedule weekly date nights.  Pursue all of our interests, both separately and together.  Keep up with our hobbies.  Have long conversations about said hobbies and interests, where the word, "baby"  is never uttered aloud.

Reality:  Yeah, right.  Date nights came few and far between.  Our interests and hobbies became trying to snatch an hour or two of shut eye, diapers, teething and a special formula that cost hundreds of dollars a month.  And, that's all we ever talked about.

Myth:  Although my progeny had yet to make his debut, I was fairly certain he would be a genius.  We'd better get his college fund started now.  Surely, Harvard and Yale will soon be calling.

Reality:  Shortly after the little genius's arrival we started spending all of his college fund on the formula, Nutramigen, which was really just liquid gold.  As for continuing education; just the other day he said, "I can't wait til I'm in college.  Then, I'll never have to read another book again!"  Probably not ivy league material.

Myth:  I will read all the books by all the experts, and learn what to do in any given situation.  As a result, my life as a mom will be fulfilling, rewarding and an incredible success.  My child, in turn, will be intelligent, kind, happy and confident.  He will always know he is loved.  He will remember his house as a warm, loving place filled with laughter. 

Reality:  Those experts are all as clueless as I am.  None of them ever said what to do when the child has been vanquished to his room, has had every single toy taken away as punishment and still won't listen to a word I say.  My child's stubbornness surpasses mine own.  And, that's no small feat.  His home has, at times, been filled with a crazed lady that has been known to shout things like, "No one in this house say another word to any one!"  or,  "I'm going to the store and if I'm really lucky I'll get lost on the way back!"  And, who cares about all those wonderful virtues?  If I can get the kid to quit using his shirt as a napkin I'm declaring it all a success.