Category Archives: Family

My Mother, Queen of the Euphemism

Recently, I spent a few hours with my family at the wedding of my cousin. I don’t see my family often, other than a holiday here and there, so it was nice to connect with my brothers, sister and mother on a more personal level than, let’s say, a Facebook exchange over a photo of our horses (or, as is the case with my mother, a photo of her standing barefoot in her driveway with a dead wild turkey [not the beverage] in her hands, never-ending grin on her face, blood spatter staining the concrete). It’s not every time, but sometimes when we get together my brothers and I, my sister and my mother sync together just right: we share in the same inflection, context, direction in which we target our wit.

Wild Turkey Death Match

Doris Day Meets Calamity Jane Meets Rambo

My mother participates differently, though. While my brothers and I poke fun, she laughs and routinely unearths some rare gem, usually in the form of a euphemism. She is the very best at this. If Euphemism* Creation were an Olympic sport, she would win the gold. I would feel bad for the competition, as they would be eating her metaphorical stuff.

I think of this and I wonder if her knack for the most general of description played a role in my own development. It may have not on the level that her lack of spelling prowess did, but it surely had something to say—and I took notice; if not consciously, mental notes were gathered in wispy snippets.

And so, it is without further adieu I give you: Mom, The Amazing Euphemism Builder Thingy**

Our word: Greenhouse

Her word: Plant home box

Our word: Dining table

Her word: Big food platform

Our word: Remote control

Her word: Clicker thing

Our word: Fortune cookie

Her word: Fake sweet triangle

Our word: Fireplace

Her word: Burn den

Our word: Consequence

Her word: Take that!

You get the idea. I love her for it. I think I prefer her words. It came to a point where she could simply say thing, and I knew what she was referring to. It’s swell. And by that I mean super awesome.

*I am using the loose definition of euphemism to make an artistic point. All right? Stop. It’ll be okay.
**You should also know that I am using a bit of exaggeration. Mom, you know I sentiment you.

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Creating The Villain

They tell me I simply need to let it be; to pay no mind. But how is such a thing possible? The anguish that was caused; the heartache; the grief; these are attributes of my character, in the sense that they have shaped my emotional, intellectual and mental understanding of the world, of people, and the way in which these things interact with one another.

Wait, scratch that. I know it’s possible to let it be. After all, if I don’t, then he’s winning.

But, what if I don’t want to? What if I need him to play the role of the tormentor? What if I need to relegate him to evil, dictatorial villain?

What if I need to know that a person like that will struggle, experience hardship?

Don’t I have some say as to how he does this? Am I not part of the social barometer that demonizes infidelity, abuse, hypocrisy? If not, then who? Not, quite assuredly, god; the latter of which I find to be especially frustrating. To live forever, after this? Really?

Presumably psychologists would say that I was losing it; that I, to some degree, am failing to see the picture. I beg to differ. It’s really quite simple.

A is evil.

A causes B pain.

B’s pain surfaces when A’s damaging effects are witnessed within context of familial structure.

In order to absolve pain, B must do one of two things:

B can steer clear of the rest of family.

B can implement the “A as villain” approach.

If option 1 occurs, B suffers.

If option 2 occurs, B finds solace.

Or perhaps B needs to get over it.

Trying.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 3

“What are you doing?” Mr. Grum commanded.

Groggy, Spencer took a moment to answer, to get his bearings. “I was just resting. Just resting.”

“Well get up. Now. We have company.”

A tall man in a v-neck sweater of green stood behind his father, smiling, waiting for Spencer to react.

“Spencer, this is Mr. Blankenship. He’s with the church.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Very nice to meet you, Spencer.”

Spencer smiled, looking Mr. Blankenship in the eyes. This was how it went with company. Smile politely, make eye contact, don’t step out of line. That line had been drawn in impenetrable stone for as long as Spencer could remember. As much as he tried to forget, his evolutionary mechanism aptly reminded him of its presence in times like these.

“We’re going to be using the dining room. I don’t want any interruptions. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

With the church, Spencer mused. It’s always with the church. He had wondered why the church took precedence over family. Why the way the family dressed for church worship services was important enough to scream about, fight over. Why Spencer and his brothers had to be so gosh darn quiet in their company. It was as though, as Spencer had thought before, their Christian development wasn’t matured, or brainwashed enough to fit in.

Frankly, he was sick of it. And he went to bed that evening with a sour taste in his mouth.

The next morning, Spencer woke before the sun came to visit. This was par for the course in the Grum household. Early to rise for chores of cleaning and dusting and organizing. While his brothers still had it in them to whine about it, Spencer had grown to realize that it was how it went. And it wasn’t so bad, he had thought. It usually gave him more time during the day to play outdoors: his most favorite place on the planet.

Later that day, after he had finished his chores, Spencer was given permission to invite his friend Garrett over. And that day, Spencer found adventure in a place hadn’t ever before.

*    *    *    *

Beyond the hill behind the Grum house, horses ran, unsaddled and free. Or at least that’s what Spencer liked to think. He didn’t know much about horses–other than what he gleaned from episodes of Have Gun Will Travel–but he did like to lean up against the fence and watch them as they galloped to and fro chasing jackrabbits and chomped on wild lemon grass in between yearnings to scratch their backs with the crust of the earth.

This one time, however, when he was eight, Spencer and his friend Garrett did just a bit more than simply watch the horses.

It was another one of those sunny weekend days in Southern California: perfect for romping around the neighborhood, exploring new trees to build forts upon, finding new ways to lend credence to the title of hooligan or scoundrel or whippersnapper, terms he heard regularly delivered by Mrs. Walden (for skateboarding “too fast” down the hill near their houses, or throwing water balloons at passing bicyclists).

“Let’s go watch the horses,” Garret said. Garrett lived in a stucco box of an apartment next to other stucco boxes, and didn’t often have the chance to be around animals. Small pets weren’t allowed in his apartment complex. Not even miniature horses.

Spencer wanted to get out of the house anyhow. Miah and Marcus were fighting over the integrity of one another’s building block castle: Miah’s being replete with moat, and imaginary crocodiles for the strict purpose of chomping on intruders, or Marcus’ wandering fingers; Marcus’ castle being the one with the highest towers, or the “better angle to shoot things in the face.” The parents were, as was the routine for Sundays, arguing over bills in their bedroom. They jabbed at each other in exasperated exclamations.

“Okay,” Spencer replied. “Let’s go.”

When they both reached the fence at the top of the hill, they leaned against it and looked out upon the roaming beasts.

“Who’s are they?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just here.”

“But who owns them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe no one does. I think they’re just wild.”

A few moments pass before the two exchange grins. The grins, translated, amounted to: They’re wild. We’re wild. Let’s be wild together.

That, at the least, was their collective vision. However naive, it was still theirs. No rules. No parents. No brothers or sisters. Only them, and the wild beasts of the field beyond the Grum house.

Stepping through the barbed wire fence, Garrett looks up, noticing one of the horses trot towards them, only twenty paces off or so. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”

“Um, no. No, they’re herbivores…I think.”

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 2

When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.

It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.

Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.

But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.

“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.

“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.

“Yah, who ya call…”

“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”

“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.

“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.

“I do!” Miah exclaimed.

“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.

“I’m the race car!” Miah said.

“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”

Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.

For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:

  1. Game opens with delight, fervor
  2. 30 minutes pass without much change
  3. Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
  4. Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
  5. Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
  6. Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
  7. Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
  8. Spencer waits patiently
  9. Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
  10. Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
  11. Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
  12. Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
  13. 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
  14. Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours

For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.

Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.

He was himself. His own self.

His own self.

His own self.

These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.

When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 1

Spencer slammed the door shut, knowing that he’d hear about it later, but not caring, for in that moment, he was alone, himself.

With each step up the hill behind his house, Spencer could feel the anxiety lessen, allowing for the calming breath of his mind to dissipate the stabbing in his chest.

He climbed.

The long grass under his feet held dew that made his socks all wet, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that this would be a point of contention later; that the socks, wet and soggy, would somehow find their way into the “reasons why boys need structure” handbook his father so dutifully abused.

At the top of the hill, Spencer looked down into the valley. Horses fed on alfalfa in one-acre lots. Kids ran up and down the street looking for something to prod, someone to play with, some activity to occupy their time. His two younger brothers, Jeremiah (or “Miah” as everyone seemed to call him) and Marcus, played in the oblong patch of grass in the front yard of their home. Spencer, sometimes, was jealous of their innocence. He wondered how they could not know. They lived in the same house.  Slept in the same room. Pooped in the same toilet. Showered in the same linoleum box.

But perhaps they did know, and their alternate universe wasn’t the opposite. Just different. Possibly better.

At least that’s what Spencer wished for.

Something better.

Better like the time he spent the weekend at his friend Micah’s house, when his parents had to make a last-minute trip with the church. Micah’s house, with all of the tasty white bread and sour licorice whips and soda pop, was something better.

Less stabby chest, more sore smiling cheeks.

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Books, Movies, Cereal for Dinner

Sometimes I’d rather spend money on books and movies than eat. It’s true. And I suspect that this desire would be much more pronounced if I were, let’s say, a hermit. Oh man. I would be starving, yet my home would be made of books. Literally. But only those big, throwaway hardcover John Grisham novels. Yes, I’d eat cereal for dinner three times a week, but I’d have so much money to spend on books and DVDs and all of the finest relevant accoutrements: cozy reading chairs, library ladders, decadent decanters, entertainment centers, special/limited/for-one-time-only blu-ray/dvd movie packages.

Thank goodness for Jessica. While we may eat cereal for dinner every once in a while, it’s not on par with hermit-hood. And I am especially thankful that she loves movies and books too. We can immerse ourselves and still find a good meal, here and there.

But we will have our Beauty and the Beast library, so help me Santa Claus.

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To Be a Parent, Ah Yes. What, You Hate Them?

I’m excited to be a parent; to be a dad. Jessica, oddly, isn’t. Believe me, I’ve tried to get her to understand. She doesn’t get it. The child with the chocolate yogurt on their face, the ceaseless crying of the baby–I find these things to be wonderful. Jessica, she hates them. She’d prefer to not see them, or hear them, or smell their adorable poopy pants. I keep telling her that they can’t just “go away,” that he/she is only one-years-old and can’t walk. One time, at the park, she approached a crying baby boy and shoved a damp, snotty ball of tissue down his throat. I told her that she can’t do that anymore; that we can only use the “I’m so sorry she was just released from the asylum” excuse so many times. I suppose, in retrospect, I should have seen this coming. The day before our wedding, at the rehearsal dinner I walked in on her punching herself in the tummy saying, “you will never happen.”

But I digress.

Parenting isn’t in my future. Unless I put her down. Although I’m not willing, just yet, to do that. I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. I’m not kidding.

P.P.S. Okay, fine. I’m kidding. Jessica wants to be a parent too. She adores kids. But I hate that I have to explain that. But I foresee that I must.

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I Married Into an Animal Explosion

I was a dog person before I met Jessica. Well, in a sense. I say ‘in a sense’ because when I compare my life and its relationship with animals to Jessica’s life with animals, mine is incredibly tame. And by tame, I undoubtedly mean that Jessica and her family would classify me as an ‘animal abuser.’ But, allow me to explain.

When we met, she had a horse, a rabbit, two dogs, and lived with a bird. And she did say, on more than a few occasions during our initial ‘dating’ period, that she wished to be a horse. She even did the whole neigh sound and mimicked the gallop in a quick semi-circle around me. I told her that I loved dogs, and I suspect, in retrospect, that I was exaggerating. Perchance I even fabricated a story or two about time spent volunteering at the animal shelter, or saving the neighbor’s pot belly pig from drowning one wet winter season.

I learned quickly that the Dobson family was one that didn’t abide by–or agree with–the concept of ‘outside pet.’ Although, I must say, I was relieved that they didn’t go so far as agreeing to the concept of ‘indoor horse.’ When I was growing up, we had dogs. Well, we had a dog, and then we had another dog. His name was Montana, and he was a Golden Retriever. A wonderful dog. But he was an ‘outdoor dog.’ My brothers and I played with him in the big yard out front; we took him on hikes down to the creek; we wrestled with him; on occasions he would be allowed inside to hang out while we watched a movie, or played Monopoly. But he slept outside in his Dogloo (awesome, by the way).

In the Dobson house, the dogs slept inside, they meandered around the dinner table and were (cover your ears, Mom) allowed up on the couch. This was all foreign to me. And has taken some time getting used to. But in the end, it hasn’t been so bad. Sure, my allergies go a bit haywire at times, and despite my body’s aversion to dander, I’ve grown quite fond of their constant presence.

Jessica, like her mom and dad and sisters, is an animal lover. I’m glad of it. I like that Scooby sleeps near the bed, and that he can wake me up with a cold, wet nose to my back. I like that we have horses (yes, we have two now) and that I can pretend to be The Man From Snowy River. I like that mom and pop Dobson are near, and their penchant for picking up strays is as strong as it ever was. I like that we rent a space that gives us the opportunity to care for dogs when the owner is away.

I love that I met Jessica. The true 4-h babe. The galloping (critter bug) Mustang, or Percheron.

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Bizarro Sleep Jessica

Nary a night passes without encountering the sleeping, alternative, bizarro version of Jessica. It goes like this: she falls asleep, waits 45-minutes, and then either talks in gibberish, screams out, sits up while talking in gibberish or screaming out or both, or gets out of the bed entirely, only to disturb, frighten and off-put myself and Scooby.

It isn’t her fault, of course. But there does seem to be a connection between her stress levels and these occurrences. And that, I’d claim, is within her control.

To better clarify and depict, I am going to present a hypothetical scenario; something that is wholly possible and very much similar to real life.

Jessica falls asleep at 10:30pm. The pillow beneath her head is a haphazard lump, punched and squished and balled up for maximum support and softness. Non is awake, playing with the iPad, or reading a book by headlamp light.

Jessica: “What are you so there No it’s not going to linens! He’s afraid no carpet peanut butter why don’t you stop but…”

Non: “Jessica, Jessica, you’re asleep.”

Jessica: “What, no. No.”

Non: “Jessica, it’s okay. Go back to sleep.”

Jessica: “What are you, no, he’s down here.”

Non: “Who’s down here?”

Jessica: “But he is. No, jellybeans.

Non: “I love jellybeans. Come on, you’re asleep, you need to get back to bed.”

Jessica is sitting up in bed now, reaching over the side for something.

Jessica: “No, but it’s here. No, what are you doing?”

Non: “I’ll just put it out of its misery.”

Jessica: “No, but it’s scared.”

Non: “Exactly. Scaredy cats must die.”

Jessica: “It’s Marmaduke.”

Non: “Dog, cat, same difference.”

Jessica: “But…the yarn.”

Non: “Yarn isn’t going to help this one.”

Jessica: “….”

Non: “Say goodbye.”

Jessica: “But…”

Non: “Jessica, it’s okay, just go back to sleep.”

Jessica: “But, he’s not knowing…”

Non: “Jessica, he can’t know.”

Jessica: “What?”

Non: “He can’t know. He’s only made of polenta.”

At this point, Jessica is just starting to wake, but is still very much out of it.

Jessica: “What?”

And here she kind of groans.

Non: “Polenta can’t reason. No brains in there.”

Jessica: “Brains?”

Non: “That’s right. Brains are good.”

Jessica: “….”

Non: “Yummy, yummy brains brains.”

Jessica: “….”

Non: “Go to sleep Jessica.”

Jessica lays her head back onto the balled up pillow, squishes her pink face blanket into her cheek. Non goes back to iPad or book.

It’s the prodding that makes it all worth it.

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Blood is Blood

“Well, they are blood, so you got to love them.”

I heard someone say this the other day. They were speaking to the concept that if one is related to you by blood, then you must share with that person a certain level of love, care and respect. I think this argument is somewhat irrational. For instance, I love my brothers. They are related, by blood. But it isn’t their blood which keeps me close, or inspires me to express gratitude or care or respect or love. It is their actions, their intents. Not the fact that we are related by blood. That doesn’t mean anything.

If, for example, a brother of mine chose to act in a way that was expressive of disrespect, lack of care or concern in keeping in touch, I wouldn’t be obligated to mend such a relationship by the simple fact that we are related. I could, however, choose to mend to discover if the lack of care was disingenuous, or shadowed by some protective facade. If I found out it was genuine, I’d surely be upset, but I wouldn’t be moved or persuaded by their relation.

You have to give me a reason to care for you, to love you. Blood, by itself, is not enough. Or, more accurately put, blood doesn’t amount to much at all, if anything.

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