Doris Day & The Secret Perils of Children’s Books

Last night my parents took me to dinner for my birthday. We do this every year and they always ask if it can be early since I usually have a lot of activities planned with my friends on the actual day. This year we’re planning to do Goat Yoga.

After dinner, we went back to my parents’ house and they began regaling me with stories from my childhood. My parents are some of the greatest people on the planet. Dad is one of those “salt of the earth” guys who can build a house from the ground up… and has. He’s a retired fireman who goes to lunch every week with his friends who call themselves the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out). He comes from a family of twelve in which he was the seventh and last son.

Mom is a retired government worker who spent a lot of time crunching numbers for the US Geological Survey, Department of Agriculture and various other government agencies. She’s one of those people who did exactly what she was told and never sought whatever lingered “outside the box.” She’ll fight you for a slice of cake or cream-filled doughnut and she’ll talk your ears off, sometimes repeating herself.

One day when Dad was picking Mom up from work, he took me to the mall beforehand. When we walked by K&K Toys, I saw a stuffed Saint Bernard complete with plastic brandy keg. I was a toddler, so he was GIGANTIC in relation to me, and is still the largest stuffed animal I’ve owned. I proceeded to wrap my arms around his neck and sit on the floor with him. When he saw that, Dad purchased him and on we went to pick up Mom with this “new pet” that dwarfed me. Mom didn’t quite know what to think.

Evidently, I had a habit of doing things like that. This is how my parents came to acquire Doris Day. Doris Day is a statue of a female Buddha. When my parents were out shopping for furniture to put in their new house, I wandered off and found this statue, wrapped my arms around it and exclaimed “DORIS DAY!” At the time, there was a TV show that starred Doris Day. In it she wore her hair on top of her head, much like the statue. Although the statue in no way actually resembled her, my parents thought that was so cute and funny that they purchased it. It is still in their formal dining room to this day.

Doris Day

Doris Day

Also in the formal dining room sits a doll that my Dad brought back from Korea. One of Mom’s co-workers had asked if he could bring back a doll for her child. Not truly comprehending that she wanted a toy baby doll, he came home with this…

The Scary Geisha Doll

The Scary Geisha Doll

For most of my childhood, this doll sat in my Mom’s sewing room. I didn’t think anything of it and hardly noticed it until…

As part of a program to encourage kids to read, we were given a catalog from which we could order books that we liked. Mom would give me the catalog and I would select a few books. For some reason, I chose a book that haunted me most of my formative years. It featured a Geisha who would grow long nails and kill people. The book was illustrated vibrantly and written for children (which is surprising given the whole death & killing thing). I have no idea what the name of the book was, but I clearly remember thinking after I’d read it that Mom’s doll was going to come to life, her fingernails would grow long and she’d kill us all. This “phase” in my life probably lasted a whole lot longer than it should.

Last night after seeing the doll again when I was checking out Doris Day, I told my parents. They were shocked. Mom thought she remembered the book, but had no idea the graphic content it contained. She also had no idea that I wasn’t fond of the doll and never wanted to be in the same room as it. Dad just chuckled.

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Limitless (and the Pitfalls of Private School)

It’s natural to have doubts. We don’t start out that way. In fact, we start out trusting everyone. We talk to strangers, reach for the hot burner, don’t look both ways before crossing the street, attempt to stick our fingers in the light socket… (okay well perhaps not all of us, but we get the warnings regardless) We are born fearless and without prejudice. We know no strangers. We have no issues of weight or body image. We don’t doubt ourselves. Why should we? The world is a great big mystery to be solved and it’s all out there for us! And then… we’re thrust out into the real world.

I remember my first bitter taste of reality. My parents sent me off to Junior Kindergarten at a private school that required all students to wear uniforms. We couldn’t even wear our winter coats on the playground at recess because our school emblems needed to be visible at all times. That first day Mom also sent me off with a few toy cars in my pocket. As soon as I pulled them out at recess, they were quickly stolen by a girl named Mary Alice Askew. I asked for them back, she refused. I asked again to no avail. Recess ended and we were ushered back inside.

Class started, but I was still distraught over the injustice that had just occurred. I whispered to Mary Alice while the teacher’s back was turned, “Give me back my cars!” She snickered. Overhearing this, the teacher called me to the front of the class and asked what was going on. “Mary Alice stole my cars!” I said. The teacher then promptly collected the cars from Mary Alice, put them in her desk drawer and gave me a spanking in front of the entire class! I returned to my seat, car-less and mortified. This was the exact moment I learned that life was not fair.

I spent 10 years at that odd little school with its strange rules and stringent dress code. My Mother was under the impression that if I attended a private school, I would meet people of a higher social standing than those in public schools. What she didn’t realize was that many of the students at this school were sent there because they were kicked out of everywhere else. She also didn’t realize how badly I was being treated by my peers. I was never taught to stick up for myself, so I was bullied and talked down to probably more often than I even noticed.

Mom used to arrange after-school play-dates with girls in my grade who she assumed I was friends with. I wasn’t, and I was usually surprised when they told me they were supposed to come home with me. They were nice to me one-on-one, but when we got back to school nothing changed. Mom kept arranging these hangouts and I kept wanting real friends. I may have been young, but at least I knew the difference.

My teen years were painfully awkward. I was too ugly, too skinny, I’d never kissed a boy and I didn’t know what all the sex slang terms meant. If I wanted a guy to pay attention to me, I had to grab the new transfer student before he started hanging out with the cool kids and making fun of me as well. I wasn’t cool by any stretch of the imagination, so I just did my best to get through.

I found an escape through the world of musical theater and collected a handful of quirky theater nerd friends along the way. There was a great theater camp during the summer and I had started getting a few lead roles here and there. (All the while, my parents were hoping I’d switch gears and tell them I secretly wanted to become a Doctor or Rocket Scientist) One year, right before school started, I landed the role of Baby Louise in Gypsy, which required me to dye my hair a deep, dark brown color. The bullies at school didn’t miss a beat on that one. The prank calls about my hair looking like “excrement” started a few weeks before the show opened. Luckily that was about the extent of it.

But all of that never broke me. Sure, I had plenty of teenage “sequester yourself in your room-listen to loud music and cry” moments, but doesn’t everyone? And I finally found my voice. It took me a long time to learn how I needed to stick up for myself, but I finally have. My friend JD used to say that I had a habit of going from zero to bitch in 60 seconds. This was because I wouldn’t say anything until I was past my breaking point. I put up with all sorts of things that I should have nixed from the start. This comes from a history of self-doubt. When you experience so much unpleasantness, you start to question yourself and wonder if you’ve done something to deserve it. Then in later life, it takes a while to realize that it was never you at all. It takes a skilled eye to see through people.

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So I’ll leave you with this…

be-kind

Not Today Satan

Today is the day I find out if my house is slowly sinking into the abyss. I have an appointment with someone who is going to crawl under my house to inspect my foundation and supporting beams. A few years ago someone noticed an indention near the guest tub where the floor had caved in. A few years before that, the tell-tale cracks above a few entrance-ways began to form. Since all of my home repair knowledge came from my father, I believed him when he told me, “It’s just the foundation settling. It happens. I just need to put a jack under the house and jack it up.” To this day, that hasn’t happened. And due to my recent DIY and organization streak, the moment of reckoning is upon me.

I bought my house a year after my graduation from college to avoid “throwing money away on rent.” Because I was young and cared more about socializing, buying cute clothes and learning the newest makeup techniques… that’s where the majority of my time, effort and disposable income were spent. To be honest, I had no business becoming a homeowner. Then again, I’m grateful that I purchased my little pillbox house when I did because it’s about a 15-minute drive to just about anything I need. I’m literally in the middle of everything. Nowadays, people pay a small fortune for a luxury like that.

Some people go through life with a checklist. Car, College, Marriage, Dog, House, Kid(s)… My mother told me that I’d meet my husband in college. That never happened. After I graduated, I looked back, thinking I must have done something wrong. I hadn’t.

My parents had a few very rigid ideas about how I was to go about the business of my life. When I was younger, they never allowed me to have any pets except for the occasional hermit crab, fish or gerbil. I was allergic to cats, but dogs were out of the question. Although I was doing musical theater since age 7, art, writing poetry and music… my parents insisted that I get a degree in “business” so that I would have “marketable skills.” They didn’t want me to be a “starving artist” living under a bridge in a cardboard box, which was how they saw anyone who sought a career in art of any kind.

I’m on my second dog now. The first was a gorgeous Pekingese puppy I picked up at a pet store with an old boyfriend. I told him, “When we tell my parents, you gave me this puppy as a gift, right?” My parents eventually warmed up to the little fur ball. They even shed a few tears when he passed away after 16 years of being their precious GrandDog. Now I have a big fuzzy Australian Shepherd rescue. I think rescue dogs appreciate you more because they’ve been through stuff. Adopting that little fur face was the best thing I’d done in a long time. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be loved unconditionally. This little guy taught me how to love and be loved all over again.

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And as far as that “starving artist” stuff goes… I’ve been doing my best to make Mom & Dad eat those words. I still have my “responsible steady day job” that pays the bills, but I’ve been enjoying growing my side hustle. I signed up for this monthly box designed for female entrepreneurs and found out today that the curator lives in the Charlotte/Rock Hill area… only a stone’s throw away! I’ve been messaging with her since I’d been stumbling upon motivational content of my own. She just started her box business in December and it’s already one of the most sought-after on Cratejoy.

Nowadays people are finding (and fueling) their passions in so many unconventional ways. It’s possible to make a living doing things that the generations before us would scoff at. You just have to get out there and find out what really sets your heart ablaze. And be you, no matter what anyone else tells you, even Mom & Dad.

And Love Yourself.

Love Yourself

Tiny Little Feminist

I think before I could walk, my parents set me in front of the TV, where I grew up watching a steady diet of the “Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Sonny & Cher”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “That Girl” and “The Carol Burnett Show”. My childhood was spent thinking that I would grow up to be a conglomeration of Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, Dinah Shore and Doris Day. These women were entertainment pioneers of that time, but I had no idea. I just knew that was what I was going to be someday.

My Mom is just about as far from a feminist as you can get. She had no idea what a glass ceiling was. She just wanted to be happy. She married the handsome fireman who all her girlfriends talked about, and to this day has no idea how beautiful she is or how attractive she looked in a bathing suit. She went to ECU and worked for the Department of Agriculture and US Geological Survey because she liked the work and her co-workers. She still tells stories about them… And she still holds a grudge because at lunch one day that damned pigeon pooped on the shoulder of her favorite yellow suit, making it unwearable ever again.

Sidebar: In Downtown Raleigh, it was customary for people who worked in the area to walk around Fayetteville Street and the Capital building during their lunch breaks. There was a man who sold peanuts on the Capital grounds. You could eat them yourself, but it was more common to feed the pigeons with them. With the elevated pigeon population, there was a greater chance of encountering pigeon poop at one time or another while strolling through, although it hardly ever happened.

Yesterday Mary Tyler Moore passed away. I didn’t know how much this would affect me until they played the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on the morning show I listen to out of Atlanta. I couldn’t stop crying. She was such an iconic piece of my history. I can probably credit her with my split-second decision to change my major from Business Admin to Journalism, although I had no idea at the time. The ideas you’re spoon fed at childhood are some pretty strong medicine. You really never know when they’ll pop back up to say hello.

I’ve never really considered myself a Feminist by definition either. However, I DO consider myself a strong woman who doesn’t take any crap. I’ve come a long way. In my youth I knew I had a lot to learn so I spent much of it as a wallflower, observing and gathering enough information to form opinions. The downside of all of this was that I also got walked on… A LOT. It also taught me that there’s only so much I can take before I will absolutely take action… thus… my coping strategy has become my low tolerance for bullshit. If that makes me a feminist, I’m okay with that.

The negative connotations of feminism as depicted by today’s media really aren’t okay. It’s great for women to be paid the same as their male counterparts. Why should we be stuck in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant? Honestly, most of the women I know are so much smarter than any of the animals unleashed on the dating websites. I weep for all my single, smart, empowered sisters.

I’m proud to have been raised by the likes of Mary Tyler Moore and her bevy of strong sitcom sisters. To this day it might be why I prefer thought-provoking conversation to animal lust. There’s so little of it out there.

And sure, there’s plenty of good entertainment still being made, but I think someone needs to go bubble-wrap Doris Day and Carol Burnett.