The Undergrad Continuum (8/17/2016)

The last few days, I have watched friends I graduated high school with ready their children for college.

I am not sure how this is possible since 1991 was really only 5 years ago so this seems to defy the laws of time.

But there they are, dropping off kids at their dorms hours away and into impending adulthood.

And it dawned on me: they are still babies.

Sure, when I graduated high school, I was ready to take on the world.

I think it mainly stemmed from being young and foolish enough to think I was invincible and that I was going to solve the world’s problems.

I knew everything, too.

Lord, have mercy at the depths and expanse of my omnipotent knowledge or lack thereof.

“I’m not quite sure why you going to school; you know everything,” Granny snorted one day.

I really thought I did.

So much so that I dropped out after my first quarter of paralegal studies because the classes started too early.

“Who can think that cussed early in the morning?” I asked.

Granny was furious; Mama, said nothing at first, until she got the phone bill. It was $8,926,274.12.

Or at least you would have thought it was given the hissy fit the crazy redhead pitched.

“Since you are taking some time to find yourself, you can find a job in the meantime,” she announced with aplomb one afternoon.

“I am your child; I should be able to reflect and be introspective on what I want to be when I grow up,” was my response.

“I can’t think of any better way to find out what you want to be than to learn what you sure don’t want.” She tossed the paper on my bed. “There’s the want ads; find yourself a job by the end of this week or the phone will be thrown out.”

She always struck a low blow, threatening my phone, my life line to the outer world beyond the graffiti walls of my bedroom.

I sighed. I had to get a job.

How was I going to find myself if I had to get a job?

But find one I did, waitressing during the lunch rush at a local restaurant.

When I complained about being tired and how customers were rude and demanding, Mama just asked me if I was ready to go back to school.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be. It’s not fair to make an 18-year-old figure out what they want to be the rest of their life,” I told her, stomping into my room.

The next phone bill was $9,308, 237.11. (This was when it was long distance to call everywhere except your city and my future ex-husband was at school, 2 hours away.)

“You need to get another job,” Mama said, tossing the paper on my bed again.
“What!? Why?” I whined. “I can’t work another job!”

“Then get one full time job,” she said. “You only work part-time and aren’t in school; you can get another one. Or I will yank the phone out of the wall.”

So I got another job. And another.

I think at one time, I had about 37 part-time jobs.

I was exhausted.

“I’m going back to school,” I whined one day. “This working thing is killing me.”

“Have you figured out what you want to be when you grow up?” she asked.

Oh, heavens no. But I had a clear idea of what I didn’t.

The thought of sharing a communal shower and a room smaller than the one I grew up in did not appeal to me, so I commuted four days a week for four years.

When I graduated that sweltering hot day in June, I just knew I was officially grown and ready to take the world by storm. Before, I thought I was ready; now I was.

I walked out of the Macon auditorium and it hit me: I was really still just a baby.

I didn’t even know how to turn on utilities, how was I going to take on the world?

I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing but again, armed with foolish bravado I thought I could do anything. I’d figure it out, right?
Thankfully, I had the fallacy of my youth on my side to help cushion my errors.

But, it was that year off that helped me grow the most.
Mama taught me the most important lessons of all; she knew working some hard jobs would be good for me, would teach me how to deal with the public, and help me figure out what I wanted to be. She didn’t let me just wallow in my own ruminations either; she is not one to entertain apathy.

She let me think I knew everything while she quietly showed me I didn’t.

She also knew it would keep me off the phone so the bill didn’t go up into the billions.

As I think of all the college freshmen starting school this month, I think they have the whole world ahead of them and I envy that time in their lives.

It’s a scary, exciting, exhilarating time, and I am sure a few probably feel like that they know everything, like I did.

And at least, briefly, for a while, they will.

 

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The Original Stay-cationers (7/6/16)

While everyone else is uploading pictures of their toes in the sand, or a view of the ocean set against the backdrop of their tanned legs, the Crouches are staying home.
Again.
For the 13th year in a row.
No loading up the van and heading south to Florida and its heat. There’s no sandy beaches in my future nor in my recent past.
And in a way, I am kind of OK with that.
I am not a huge vacationer to begin with. Even when I was a child, we didn’t go anywhere.
Mama asked me once if I wanted to go to Disneyland; whether or not she would have taken me, I don’t know. But I remember asking her how much walking was involved and after considering having to use public restrooms along with countless others, I told her I’d rather go to the library instead.
Maybe it’s because the one time we tried to venture anywhere for any length of time, it seemed like something always happened.
I was maybe 5-years old the first time my family decided to go anywhere.
This was a big deal – huge, actually, because my grandfather agreed to go and it was on a Sunday.
So there must not have been any kind of sporting event on TV that day that he had to watch.
It was spontaneous; I had got up to get ready for church and Granny had announced we were not going.
“Did church go out of business?” I asked over my Fruity Pebbles.
“No, but we are going to do something today we ain’t never done; we going on a day trip.”
Granny called to inform the preacher he was on his own this Sunday, she was not there to keep the congregation in line and God help him, keep them awake, either.
Mama worked all the time, Pop & Bobby worked all the time and were self-employed, and Granny worked and thought she kept a tri-county portion of the state in line. There was no time for vacations or up until now, a day trip.
But here we were, loading into Granny’s Oldsmobile, all of us, and heading – of all things – out of state to North Carolina.
We went to Cherokee, in all its gaudy glory.
I was amazed at how everything looked, and all the Native American regalia that was displayed in shops. I wanted one of everything; I think Mama decided on a pair of moccasins and a headdress with a toy bow and arrow. Why she refused to get me a real one, I have no idea. I was protesting this fact when a man dressed in Native American buckskin told me I needed to respect my mother.
All I knew was based on the size of his headdress, he must have been the head guy, so I shut up. Until he decided to flirt with my Mama. The crazy redhead seemed to like it too.
“He was handsome,” she giggled when I grabbed her hand to pull her away.
I was tired. I was hungry. My feet hurt. I was ready to go.
We had been there about one hour and 15 minutes.
I stated my complaints. “We drove all the way here – out of the dadblamed state. You gonna have fun it if I have to make you!” was Granny’s response.
I didn’t, but I knew better than to say anything else.
Maybe it was the boiled peanuts, or maybe I was carsick because I ventured out of state, but by the time I got home, I was feeling quite queasy.
Granny called the preacher to make sure the church had not imploded or Jesus hadn’t come back in her absence. He assured her the church was still standing and that Jesus wouldn’t make any decisions without consulting her first.
The next week, Granny found chewing gum – chewing gum, which she never allowed in her nursery – stuck in the carpet.
You would have thought all 10 commandments had been broken as the old gal was in the floor muttering under her breathe as she scrubbed.
“See! See there! That’s why we don’t go nowhere!” she screamed at me.
It wasn’t my idea to go anywhere but she wanted me to understand her logic train.
I just felt sorry for whoever was going to receive her wrath.
You’d think Granny would learn, but the next year on another Sunday, she decided we were going to Stone Mountain.
She called and told the preacher, reminding him about the gum from the year before. He assured her no gum would be chewed while she was gone.
We walked around, found a funnel cake for me, followed by ice cream, then watermelon. We walked some more. My uncle asked me if I wanted to walk up to the top.
“Why would anyone want to do that?” I cried.
He asked if I wanted to ride the cable car to the top instead. “Good lord, no!”
He went alone instead.
Mama complained about the heat. “You know I get sun poisoning real easy. It’s too hot!”
Someone got the grand idea for us to take a riverboat ride. The thing wasn’t going that fast, really, but watching the water rolling and swaying was enough to make me really, really sick.
“Maybe it was the funnel cake,” my uncle suggested.
“Or maybe it was the watermelon,” my grandfather said.
“Yeah, or the ice cream,” my uncle added.
I was sick. So sick. And ready to go home.
I think we were maybe there 2 hours.
As we headed back home, we realized we didn’t need to go anywhere. Not for a few days, and sure not for a week or longer. Heck, we were doing good to get to the grocery store once a week without some major catastrophe.
Granny set it in stone when she declared, “That’s it. We’ve tried day trips and this mess ain’t working! We ain’t going nowhere ever again!”
And I pretty much haven’t gone anywhere since then. Why tempt fate when it seems to be something my family just isn’t good at doing?
At least I don’t have to worry about the vacation laundry.

Snips, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails (6/1/2016)

A dear, dear friend once gave me a check list of things to follow as the mother of a boy.

One, was to expect to never at any given time have enough food in the house. Even if I had just been to the grocery store, there would never be enough food to fill the vacuous black hole of a boy’s stomach.

She was right about that, as I feel like most days, all I do is feed him.

She also warned my house would never be clean again.

Heck, it hadn’t been clean before, so that didn’t really bother me.

Her next heeding was to always check his pockets because sometimes, living things may find shelter there. Especially if he is wearing pants with a lot of pockets.
“And you don’t want to find out the hard way that amphibians cannot survive a washing machine cycle,” she cautioned.

By the time Cole reached double digits on his age, I felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief.

He hadn’t stuffed a frog or anything else living in the pockets of his pants, leaving the critters to their natural habitats where he would study them each night, armed with a flashlight and a journal.

He wasn’t particularly fascinated with violent video games or movies as some of his peers had been. Sure, he liked his Nintendo DS but it was not an everyday toy.

He loves old cars, and has a definite opinion on what kind of car he was going to get when he could drive at age 30.

All in all, he has been a rarity of sorts, being well behaved, thinking on his own, and having his own opinions on things that sometimes rivaled my own.

So, when he my precious little lump of boyish charm decided he loathed baths, I was shocked.

This is the child that once used my whole brand new bottle of fragrant body wash in his bath – so he could “smell good for the ladies,” he declared. He was in pre-k at the time.

Just a year ago, I was buying him banana scented Minion body wash and now, I am arguing with him as to why he needs a shower every day.

“I don’t smell yet,” he will say.

“Cole, you don’t wait until you smell – you take a bath every day!”

“Well, I don’t do anything to get dirty,” he said.

“You shed dead skin daily, it’s mixed with oil, and dirt, and other stuff your body produces.”
This was science and instead of my child finding it gross, he exclaimed, “Cool!” and wonder if he could watch it happen.

“No,” I sighed, not really sure.

I could not relate to this new-found aversion to cleanliness. As a child, any time a bath was drawn, I would get in the tub, even when it wasn’t for me. I would beg to take a third, sometimes fourth bath as a child because I loved being clean.

But I was a little girl. A little girl who propped up on her stuffed animals and read them books all day while eating Little Debbies.

A little girl who never broke a sweat, and seldom went outdoors.

This is a little boy – a very busy, active, always outside little boy who sweats.

“But I don’t stink – yet,” he will say.

And that’s another thing: little boys seem to like noxious odors that can gag a 100-lb German shepherd.

Cole took his shoes off one night and wiggled his socked toes, pointing a foot at Ava.

The big dog promptly fell over and shuddered.

He giggled with glee.

“Cole, get in the shower before you get in bed,” I said.
“Never!” he cried.

He tells me he has a protective layer going on and when he takes a shower, it removes the barrier between him and the outer world, allowing germs and the like to go through his pores.

“Do you have any idea how long it takes to build up a good solid barrier?” he asked in all seriousness.

Bathing the 100-lb German shepherd is actually easier than finagling him to get a shower; and she will nearly kill you.

For Mother’s Day, my child gifted me with Mom coupons, telling me I could redeem them for showers. “Cole, you are supposed to take a shower every day,” I replied.

“Well, you only got two coupons for that, so not sure how that will work out.” The coupons were specifically for a “Scrub –a-Dub Hug,” which meant he’d get a shower and even hug me later instead of complain about the cruelty of water and soap.

I fuss, I beg, I plead, I bargain – boy, do I bargain – all to no avail.

“He’s a little boy,” his father says. “Little boys all go through that stage where they hate baths and they want to see how gross they can get.”

When would this stage end? How long would it last? He was enjoying being as icky and gross as he could get away with.

“Don’t worry,” Lamar said. “Once he gets interested in a girl – and I mean a real girl his own age – he will start caring if he has a bath or not.”

This did not comfort me at all.

The only way to get my little boy, all snips, snails, and puppy dog tails, to care about whether or not he was clean was if he was interested in a girl?

If only that checklist came with instructions on how to handle the heartache of little boys growing up, I would be better prepared.

 

Rules for political engagement (4/6/2016)

I yearn for the election years of yesterday. Politics were just not discussed, not even among family.

Pop said it gave him indigestion if he had to listen to politics at the dinner table.

Granny snorted and said none of it was fit to repeat anyway.

And then there was Mama, keeping her opinions to herself as she hid behind her crossword puzzle or Harlequin.

Until one day, I had to go to the voting polls with her.

Mama had to take me to the doctor. Seeing as I was sick with some horrific form of an X-Files-related virus, Mama knew once she got me home, that’s where we were probably staying for a few days.

Into the rec department we went and Mama sat me down at the edge of the curtain of the voting booth.

“You keep your eyes closed and if you do happen to see anything, don’t you ever, under any circumstances, breathe a word about who I voted for.”

I don’t have a clue who she voted for and didn’t care then or now.

I was so sick I was seeing things in triplicate and may have spotted a unicorn in the parking lot, so which ballot she used, or who she voted for, was the least of my concern.

A few years later, my school was doing a fun mock campaign with people setting up booths for Mondale/Ferraro and Reagan/Bush to see who would win.

My grandfather was outraged.

“That is the biggest crock of nonsense I’ve ever heard! Have they no common decency? They are trying to find out how people are voting by seeing what you young’uns come back and report!” he bellowed, his rich, deep roar vibrating through the house.

I was nonplussed.

“So, which booth am I gonna go vote at? Reagan and Bush or Mondale and the car lady?”

I thought his head would explode. He was furious they would even ask us to do such a thing.

“Who a person votes for is private. It’s nobody’s business. Nobody!”

I still needed to know who to vote for.

“Tell ‘em you ain’t gotta worry about it because you ain’t old enough to vote,” was Granny’s response.

Mama leaned more towards her father’s opinion, but simply said, “Oh my,” when I told her about this project that was supposed to focus on our rights to vote and the privilege we were given.

“I still don’t know who to vote for,” I groaned days later.

“Don’t vote for who we tell you to, Kitten,” she said. “Do your own research and vote for the person you think would be the best. Pop’s right though; it’s not any one’s business and that does seem like they are trying to figure out how the parents are voting.”

“I don’t get it. Why is this such a big deal and so ‘top-secret?'”

It took a moment to gather her thoughts before she could respond.

Back then, your political yearnings were private and not to be discussed.

Who one supported – or disliked – could cause deep rifts in families, in business and because not everyone felt the same way, you kept your opinions to yourself to keep the peace.

She tried to explain all of this to me but I still didn’t understand why who we wanted to vote for was shrouded in such mystery.

And then, one day, that changed and it seemed like everyone was talking about politics.

Granny blamed a lot of it on Madonna, who she blamed pretty much everything for in the ‘90s.

In 1990, “Rock the Vote” came out and it made talking about politics not only more common place but acceptable.

“Gah!” Granny bellowed as she got up to turn off the TV.

“I am so stinkin’ glad Madonna is telling me how I need to vote. I reckon if she hadn’t told me that, I’d still be sitting here, not knowing I had any rights whatsoever.”

Granny cooled her ire for a moment.

“I can’t believe they wrapped the American flag around that woman. It’s shameless!”

She also said it was patriotic sacrilege and she hoped that wasn’t a real American flag.

“Granny, it’s to help make people my age get out and vote,” I explained.

Granny glared at me.

“Let me tell you something, all of them there celebrities is paid. Just ‘cause Ms. Material Girl gets up there and shakes her hiney all disgraceful-like in her drawers don’t mean I am gonna listen. And you, young’un, need to think about why she is telling you to vote. I ain’t buying what she’s a selling. Or any of ‘em.”

Suddenly, I was on the receiving end of Granny’s wrath all because I was excited about voting and made the mistake of saying Madonna made a video about it.

Maybe I should have left Madge out of it.

Or maybe it would be better if we brought her back now.

Who knows? It was easier then, and much more pleasant to endure election years when we didn’t feel compelled to talk about it all the time.

There was no ridiculing, no mudslinging and no low blows about morals and integrity – and that’s amongst friends discussing politics, not the politicians.

“Mama, who are you going to vote for?” Cole asked me recently.

“Sweetness,” I began. “Rule number one: We don’t discuss politics. Not even with family. It’s just wrong and shouldn’t be done.”

“What’s rule number two?”

“There’s not a number two – there is only one.”

And if we stick to that one, maybe we will still be talking come November.

Don’t Make Me Get My Mama (3/23/2016)

My earliest memories of my Mama convinced me being a mother was the closest thing to being either a superhero or a one-person Mafioso.

I can recall recounting something my first grade teacher (who hated me, by the way) had said to me on the way home; Mama turned that Monte Carlo around like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit” and hightailed it back to the school to confront the woman.

The evil woman was scared. I was amazed – Mama was a skinny little waif of a thing then but she was putting the fear of the devil in this hardened woman who looked like she was carved on Mount Rushmore.

A deep epiphany came over me that day. Mama, and not just Granny, was to be feared.

Even though that dreadful woman hated me, she pretty much gave me a wide berth after that, until one day she made another derogatory comment to me. Remembering the way she had reacted that fateful day, I narrowed my eyes and clenched my jaw.

“Don’t make me get my Mama,” I said.

It worked.

Over the course of the next several years, Mama became legendary – a parental “John Wick,” if you will, minus the artillery. Her weapons were her tongue, her big puffy red bouffant, and the fact she was right. And God forbid if anyone disparaged her Kitten. She went from a relatively reserved, quiet peace-loving lady who dared not offend a soul into a hellcat with claws.

When one high school science teacher, who seemed to take pride in how many of us failed his weekly quizzes, decided to point out one of my friend’s test scores in front of the class, my friend replied, “Don’t make me get Sudie’s Mama up here. I will.”

The teacher looked at him and laughed. “In case you forgot, you’re not her child.”

“Yeah, well, she will still come up here if I call her. Don’t make me call her.”

“Would she?” the teacher asked, directing the question to me.

I nodded. She would.

She did, too. I told her what the teacher did and the next morning, she was in the principal’s office, telling him making fun of a student in front of his peers was not conducive for learning and created a hostile educational environment. If it was wrong, it was wrong, and Mama couldn’t stand for injustice.

We had a new teacher the following semester.

Flash forward to my senior trip. Two friends and I had decided to go to Panama City. Mama was fully against this, saying we were too young to go out of state.

Granny, always on my side, snorted and said, “When you was her age, you was already married and divorced. Let the youngun’ go. She’s gotta live a little before life sucks the joy right out of her.”

The morning after we graduated, we hit the road, arriving at a hotel that took our money but didn’t give us a room.

Here we were; three girls completely out of our elements and miles away from home.

I pulled out the only thing I knew could work. I sidled up to the counter, looked that clerk in the eye and said, “Don’t make me call my Mama.”

One of my friends whispered, “I don’t think they know about your Mama here in PCB.”

“No, we don’t know about your Mama. And we don’t care. Your Mama can’t do anything,” the greasy man sneered.

And you know what? For the first time in my life, when I told Mama about it, Mama didn’t do anything.

When we went home two days later – because we realized we were too young to be miles and miles away from home without our mamas—I told Mama what happened. She pursed her lips together, her grey-green eyes flashed first with anger, then worry, and she nodded silently while I told her the horrors I had endured.

“I am so sorry,” she finally said when I finished.

“I got the name of the hotel and the name of the mean clerk for you,” I told her.

“I don’t need it,” she said. “You see, Kitten, you wanted to go off and be all grown. I thought you were far too young to go off with your friends without an adult. Had you maybe listened to me, and not gone, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The woman who lived to defend and protect her precious Kitten was not going to unleash her locusts in another state? What in the world was wrong with her?

“So, you aren’t going to do anything, Mama?”

“Not this time,” she said. “You wanted to be all grown and independent. Part of being grown means taking care of your own problems.”

Of course, since I have grown up, Mama will still launch an attack if anyone wrongs her only child. She has threatened to come up here on numerous occasions when I have told her of some injustices.

And I admit, there’s sometimes, I wish I could just let Mama handle some stuff.

As a parent myself, I am trying to teach my child how to handle his own issues. The other day, after exploring every possible option to get a game to save, he asked for the phone. “Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Their customer service department,” he said.

“Do you want – ”

“No, Mama, I got this. I’m 11, you know, I can take care of it.”

He scurried off to leave a message for tech support. They called back within 10 minutes.

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick! They must have excellent customer service.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it was what I said when I left my message.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“I told them I had spent my money I saved up on this and needed to know how to make it work. But I think the kicker was, “Don’t make me get my Mama.””

The legend undoubtedly continues.