Although my half-brother Skip and I didn’t even meet until we hit our mid-30s, we immediately bonded. We craved restitution for our three-decades delay as playmates. Sharing the same father, we looked alike, thought alike and partied alike. And, like many wild and crazy guys, we had both been freshly divorced.
During this period between wives, we rented separate studio apartments in the same building. We knew better than to move in together. We were too much alike. Book ends. We’d have killed each other. As it turned out, we merely teased each other unmercifully.
For openers, when he popped into my apartment unannounced one day, Skip noticed a baby picture on my mantle and wondered aloud which one of my daughters it imaged. Julie or Sarah?
“Neither one, you dolt,” I said. “That’s me.”
“You? Then why did your mother stick you in a dress?”
“Then why does my baby pictures show me dressed like a quarterback, posing with a football?”
“Probably because your mother intuitively sensed your inevitable insecurities about your manliness.”
Skip meandered closer to my mantel and stared, stupefied by my collection of stuffed toy frogs.The real star of the collection was an adorable amphibian named Prince Benjamin. Nicknamed Benji, he proudly stood five inches tall, wearing ballet slippers, a pink jacket and a sly facial expression.
Skip picked him up.
“And whom do we have here?” Skip sniffed in a tone of mock condescension as he eyeballed my little prince. “Oh, my gawd! You’re a grown man, baby brother. Why don’t you just get some dollies and be through with it?
“Now see here, Missy,” I said. “My frog menagerie stands as no more immature or effeminate than your precious collection of Little Lulu comic books. And how about when you get high as a kite and stare for hours at a Bugs Bunny cartoon marathon?”
Skip then reminded me that I didn’t even have to be high to race to the park at midnight and demand that he push me as high as the swings could go.
I admitted that, even sober, I had become a bit idiosyncratic, but added: “Truthfully, Skip, I was never weird until I started hanging out with you.
“Oh, come now,” Skip said, pointing at my baby picture. “You’ve been weird ever since — ever since you posed for that baby picture.”
Ignoring him, I clipped Benji to my ear and informed Skip that Prince Benjamin would accompany us on all public outings henceforth. From then on, Skip feigned a deep-seated hatred toward my stuffed frogs, especially my “constant companion.”
A few months later, Skip received a lucrative job offer out of state. Some of our mutual friends and I threw a going-away party for him.
About a dozen of us were sitting at a bar laughing about one thing or another. Then out of nowhere, Skip said he had an announcement to make, looked directly at me and said: “Be forewarned that, before I fly away to Virginia, I’m gonna break into your apartment and I’m gonna kill the frogs.”
While I’m still reeling from that, he says, “Wait. Allow me to amend that: Before I move to Virginia, I’m gonna break into your apartment and kill JUST BENJAMIN.”
Horrified, I jerked Prince Benji off my ear and tucked the stuffed amphibian safely into my pocket.
Skip never made good his threat, but I never trusted him to see Prince Benjamin again. The day that Skip flew to Virginia, I saw him off. Just as he was about to head up the ramp leading to the plane, I yelled “Yo Skip!” and took Benji out of my pocket, held him up and yowled, “RIBBET! RIBBET!” Stunned into speechlessness, Skip reacted by skipping to the ramp and onto the plane.
I overheard a woman wonder why a grown man was skipping. “Grown men in my family? No such animal,” I said. Then I skipped away.
I regret behaving inappropriately. I should have hopped away instead. You know? Like a frog.
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.
The local theater troupe gained an invaluable actress as well as a director. The local nudist colony had a valued new resident. The local Science of Mind Temple got a new congregant.
This sudden revolution in our nuclear unit did not take place without resistance. We were a conservative Jewish family. For my mom to break out of the confines of the home was one thing but to go outside of the circle of the religion? My dad is an honorable man, who really didn’t know how to handle the situation, and that train had left the station. Even the silent treatment he gave her as a last resort was no match for my mom’s resolve. After a week of giving her the cold shoulder, he realized there was nothing to put his foot down on. The foundation of our lives had shifted. It was no longer where it had been at all. I used to joke that we would soon be hosting a Martian convention.
I remember standing outside the laundry room a few years prior, listening to my mom quietly cry. I asked what was wrong and she said, “It’s nothing.” I longed to be able to do something for her in that moment. Her lament was not about her family. It was about innately knowing there was a universe inside her expanding and not knowing how to expand with it. The plight of the ’50s housewife was something with which she was not prepared to be content. What she was yearning for was wholesale liberation.
Once she made up her mind, she never looked back. Even Science of Mind was just the first station on her spiritual trek up a mountain that is, still to this day, rising.
I got swept up in her revolution, joining her in theatrical productions, at the nudist colony, at Science of Mind meetings, at a matinee of the controversial French romantic film Cousin Cousine.
Mom didn’t abandon the house. We still had our meals together, my sister and I made it to school on time, we still had clean clothes. My mom’s clothes, when she wore them, were brighter, still classy, always classy, but with more of a theatrical flair.
Overall, after a few months, there was just a lot more levity, as if there was an extra breeze that hadn’t been there before.
My mom had really just taken me along on her adventures, but I loved the whole thing. It was a grand opening that never stopped. It was as if I had popped into the novel Auntie Mame. The book inspired both the play and movie and was about a boy, his eccentric aunt, and their bohemian, outrageous adventures. “Life,” as Mame would say, was indeed “a banquet,” and not only was my cup overflowing, I was able to pour some out to those around me as well. I had friends at school and had made my classmates laugh, but my new extended theater family were really my people. My mother became a portal for us, to not escape into, but to be transported fully into who we were meant to be.
The fact that I became an actor, a musician and someone who aspires to inspire peace and connection between faiths, communities and colorful lifestyles all bloomed the year my mother came out to her fabulousness. I never heard her cry behind a closed door again.
Sally Lee Levin has become a dedicated fountain of life, a river of positive affirmation and a healing presence for those within the rippling circumference of her heart.
My dad was not only a good sport but also rose to the occasion of my mom’s transformation with award-winning valor. He still rolls his eyes at some of my mom’s beliefs, but acknowledges that she is very powerful. He is grateful for her and their invaluable, intertwining partnership.
My sister aimee, (she spells her name with a lower case ‘a.’) was a teenager and was essentially doing her own thing during mom’s emancipation. Still, I believe it sent a message to her that she could be strong within herself and become what she was drawn to be. My sister is a doctor of audiology with a thriving practice and has two wonderful children of her own.
So, here’s to unconventional, strong moms and how they model life for us inside and outside the circle of our expectation and understanding.
Happy Mother’s Day!
— Ira Scott Levin
Ira Scott Levin blogs at Stream of Light, reflections spotlighting those making the world a brighter place through their dedicated benevolence and creative caring. His blog appears frequently at Thrive Global.
Mother’s Day is May 14 and I’d like to send a tribute out to my mom and every other mother out there who has made the loving sacrifice to go through nine months of morning sickness, back pains, hormonal changes, swollen feet, maternity clothes and hours of labor to produce a new human being.
To a child, a mom is there to nurture you, comfort you when you are sick or hurt, and raise you from a helpless infant to the point where the child says: “Look mom, I’m 40 years old. I don’t need your help anymore, but stay close to the phone in case it doesn’t work out.”
Whether she’s called “Mommy,” “Mama,” “Mom,” “Mum” or a hundred derivatives of the name “Mother,” a mom will do a thousand things for you to make your world a safe.
She is the one who finds your lost toys when you’re a child and soothes your boo-boo when you cry.
She sews a button back on when you lose one, but only after carefully searching your crib, playpen, the house and your diaper to find the lost button and make sure you didn’t swallow it.
Moms are the ones who help you learn the tools of life from an early age. They teach you how to count your little piggies, play peak-a-boo, wave bye-bye, use the potty and let you feed yourself spaghetti without letting you get too much on your hair and clothes.
She is the one who will sacrifice her dreams so you can have dreams of your own.
As I grew up, my mom was always there to provide me with words of wisdom, counsel and advice on life. After talking to other people, I find that they were not original thoughts, but were special “mom” messages passed down from mother to child from the beginning of time.
My mom would say:
“Eat your carrots. They’re good for your eyes. You never see rabbits wearing glasses.
Don’t run with scissors in your hand.
Close the door. You weren’t raised in a barn.
Don’t speak with your mouth full.
Wear clean underwear. You never know when you might be in an accident.”
That was my mother’s credo and you know what? I ate my carrots, walked with the scissor blades clutched tightly in my hand, shut all doors on entering and ate with my mouth closed for decades. And the one time I was in a car accident and had to go to the emergency room, I had clean underwear on.
I’ve survived my childhood and adolescent traumas and grown into a mature adult who has a family and my own kids, and there’s only one thing I want to say to my mother. “Thank you for being there, and I love you.”
— Myron Kukla
It all began with a routine flight physical. My doctor discovered that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level in my blood was a bit high, and he calmly suggested prostate cancer screening. My brain, of course, translated his routine words into, “DANGER, SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY!”
Since many of you men will face prostate cancer screening yourselves someday, let me help prepare you for what’s ahead.
1. I am convinced that digital rectal exams (DREs) of the prostate are only slightly less uncomfortable than what women experience during childbirth. I have tried everything I know of to get out of these exams. I even replaced the box of medical gloves on the counter in an examination room one day with a makeshift sign that read, “GLOVES ON BACK ORDER.” When the doctor entered the room, however, he just looked at me and said, “I hate it when I have to do this barehanded.” I returned the gloves. Unfortunately, guys, there is no way out of the DRE.
2. If you become a candidate for a prostate biopsy, the doctor will normally use a transrectal ultrasound probe as a guide during the procedure. According to a brochure that I was given, these devices are — and I quote — “barely bigger than a thumb.” Yeah, right! Whose thumb? The Jolly Green Giant’s? Don’t let anyone fool you: these things are HUGE! Even though I have never actually seen one, my considerable experience with these probes leads me to say with some certainty that they are approximately the same length and diameter as a baseball bat.
3. The prostate biopsy gun, on the other hand, is actually not as bad as it sounds. It really causes very little pain or discomfort. Still, if you want to keep your anxiety level somewhat under control, I would recommend that you avoid gazing around the procedure room. If viewing all of the medical paraphernalia doesn’t bother you, I would think that seeing the extra nurses, medical students, janitors, the receptionist and her daughter’s kindergarten class, the UPS guys, etc., who have wandered in to observe your procedure just might. I know. You are thinking that I’m embellishing the size of the crowd…and you’re right. Because of their demanding schedules, the UPS guys seldom get to stick around.
4. I have experienced prostate biopsies both with a sedative and without, and the procedure is completely tolerable either way. If you are going to receive a sedative, however, your doctor will probably tell you — as did mine — to be sure to bring a driver with you. That’s why I walked into my last biopsy appointment with my graphite-shafted #1 wood in hand. I take my doctor’s instructions seriously.
Well, that’s some of what I have experienced during my prostate cancer screening journey. And, although I may have exaggerated some of it (okay, most of it) to make a point or two, the whole process — even the biopsy procedure itself — is really not a big deal. The important thing is this: although recommendations vary, the prostate cancer screening process — while not foolproof — could quite literally help save your life.
And remember, you can gain something beneficial out of almost any situation. I am now so familiar with the whole biopsy thing, for example, that I am writing an informational brochure about it. I’m calling it “The Prostate Biopsy Procedure: A Guide to Understanding the Tools and Tactics Used by the IRS during Your Tax Audit.” It occurs to me that there are an amazing number of similarities between these two events.
— Jerry Tobias
Jerry Tobias is an aviation writer who flew everything from supersonic military aircraft to Boeing 747s during a 40-year career as an Air Force, corporate and airline pilot. He also speaks as an aviation safety specialist and as a motivational speaker discussing life lessons learned through aviation. Jerry is a cancer survivor. Reach him at email@example.com.
As my wife’s career continues to flourish and make me look even more dispensable, I often find myself at home with the kids while she’s traveling to exciting cosmopoli-
tan locations on out-of-state business trips.
If I travel for business, it’s almost always to a city within a 10-mile radius of a Buc-ee’s convenience store. (At least I know I can get to some jerky and a clean men’s room — usually in that order.) When I’m left to care for the children for a few nights on my own, I’m always reminded of how little I contribute to the operation of the household while my wife is there. Who knew kids needed to eat more than a couple of times a week and that Pop-Tarts didn’t cover their nutritional requirements? I mean, I buy the kind with fruit filling!
On her most recent trip, I knew I was in trouble on our first morning without her. When I wandered through the darkness of the living room on my way to wake the children and livestock, I discovered that our cat had tried to make me feel more needed by barfing on the carpet during the night. Even worse, she had strategically placed her offering directly in my walking path. On the bright side, there’s nothing like cold feline vomit between your toes at 6 a.m. to bring you fully awake.
My next act involved agreeing to let my youngest daughter have a Diet Dr. Pepper with her Pop-Tart for breakfast. (Don’t judge! Both of these products are made in the USA! America First!) I had actually intended to offer her some yogurt, but on my recent trip to the Walmart Neighborhood Market (which is like a regular Walmart, but without the fertilizer and toilet seats), I purchased the strawberry cheesecake flavor, instead of the cherry cheesecake flavor. How thoughtless of me! Where do they come up with these flavors, anyway? When I was a kid, yogurt came in one flavor — vanilla blech.
I was considerate enough to provide my daughter with an old plastic Olive Garden kid’s cup with a lid so her drink wouldn’t spill. Unfortunately, the lid I chose was from an old plastic On the Border kid’s cup that didn’t fit the Olive Garden cup because, apparently, part of the strategic plan of these two franchises is to make my life difficult. When I tried to force the wrong lid on the wrong cup, the dog enjoyed lapping up the Diet Dr. Pepper off the floor. (We’re hoping her fur returns to its natural color soon.)
The fun continued when I asked my eldest daughter to use the Keurig machine to fix my daily mug of hot tea. (No, I don’t drink coffee. To me it tastes like stagnant water out of an old tire. Don’t ask how I know.) While she was hypnotically watching the tea pouring into the mug she was holding, I reached across her to get a bowl from the cabinet for my Cap’n Crunch and managed to push her arm just enough to shift the mug from under the stream of piping hot tea. She then began hypnotically watching the hot tea pour onto the cabinet and then onto my bare foot, freshly sanitized from the pet sputum fiasco. At that point, I lost it. In an act of manly strength, I shoved the mug and the Keurig into the sink, breaking one of our few surviving drinking glasses actually made of glass in the process. Naturally, I blamed the entire incident on the children.
I then prepared the girls’ lunches in stoic silence, with only the maniacal laughter of SpongeBob SquarePants echoing through the kitchen (because I believe in starting the school day with educational television programming). The lunches included mini-sandwiches made with King’s Hawaiian Rolls, that miraculous bread created by removing all of the nutritious ingredients and leaving only the delicious ones. I was also feeling guilty for my tantrum, so I threw in a few miniature York Peppermint Patties — the only candy in the pantry that I don’t like. As I lovingly handed the girls their lunch bags, they timidly informed me that they were having pizza at school that day.
Once I had finished sobbing over the lunches, we had piled into the car, and I had gone back in and out of the house two or three times for things I forgot (my keys, my wallet, my phone and at least one child), I told the girls I was sorry for acting like their mother and throwing a fit. Of course, they reminded me that “Mommy never acts that way — only you, Daddy,” and they told me it was ok — they understood how hard it was for me without an adult in the house to take care of us. This made me feel even guiltier, so I suggested we say a prayer as we drove to the school.
As I prayed that everyone would have a good day and that the Lord would allow my kids to stop spilling stuff, my middle daughter interrupted to remind me to drive with my eyes opened. She assured me that God wouldn’t mind if I didn’t kill us all. I just hope He also understands that the next time my wife leaves for a business trip, we’re going with her — and bringing our Pop-Tarts with us.
— Jase Graves
Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He teaches English and serves as the department chair of language development at Kilgore College. Along with his professional teaching position, he teaches children’s Sunday school. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog, “What’s Wrong With Daddy?” Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.
To be or not to be. Bazinga!
Oh, Romeo. Oh, Romeo, where fore art thou, Romeo? Bazinga!
This is the season of our discontent. Bazinga!
Et tu, Brute? Bazinga!
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Bazinga!
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Bazinga!
If music be the food of love, play on. Bazinga!
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Bazinga!
To sleep, perchance to dream. Bazinga!
We are such stuff as dreams are made on. Bazinga!
— Paul Lander
Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has written for National Lampoon, American Bystander, Huff Post Comedy, The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Humor Times, written and/or produced for multiple TV shows and written standup material that’s been performed on Maher, Letterman, Colbert, Kimmel and more. He’s been named Humor Writer of the Month by the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and received an award for his humor writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Now, onto Paul’s time commanding Special Forces in Khandahar…
“Is your homework done? Have you taken a shower lately? Is your room fumigated?”
High school days were the most challenging. We had dating. We had driving and first cars. And, of course, I had to monitor their lives closely.
“Be sure that boy you’re dating is not a crazy. You are not wearing that! Do you know a storm is coming? Why are you driving to the city in this weather?”
(One activity I agreed with and supported was their joint kick boxing class at the local gym.)
In all those days, I was the obsessed parent. I would fret and worry and give advice. Heeded or not, I never gave up trying. Then they moved away, and I no longer had a say. (Not that I don’t still interject my opinions regularly.)
In the last five years my girls have been in Brooklyn, New York, where I have schlepped my plus-60 body over there three times a year. Same route, same routine. Catch Delta, four pm-ish to arrive when they leave their workplaces, grab a cab at LaGuardia. Next, I make the phone call to one daughter or another to guide the cab driver to their “can’t get there from here” Brooklyn neighborhood.
From airport to airport and into the boroughs, I would receive four phone calls.
“Mom, how was the flight? Where are you? Are you here yet? Where’s your luggage?”
On my tri-annual visits, I have taken to shuffling out early in the morning, sneaking out of one daughter’s coop or the other and hustling three blocks to a favorite coffee shop before they can catch me. I feel so grownup when I make it to my destination and back without a nervous call from one of them.
“Where are you!”
If I should miss a bus stop, one of them is at the bus door when I finally arrive, nose pressed to the glass, staring at me.
“Where have you been!”
Granted, my knees don’t handle the subway stairs well due to a bit of arthritis, and I am not great in crowds, but I’m not dead yet, ladies.
“You need a motorized scooter, Mom,” they say.
“Go ahead,” I tell them, “Buy me one.”
For so many years, I was the protector, the advisor, the commander, the nurturer. Now I’m the idiot child. But who can argue with all that fervent concern?
I just have a message for you, girls. Wait ‘til I get to the nursing home! (He he.)
— Kaye Curren
Kaye Curren has returned to writing after 30 years of raising two husbands, two children, two teenage stepchildren, three horses, umpteen dogs and cats, and several non-speaking parakeets. She used to write computer manuals but now writes humor essays, human interest stories and memoir. Her guest posts have been recently featured on LiteraryMama.com, humorwriters.org, DivorcedMoms.com, SheKnows.com and SheWrites.com. Also find her musings on her website/blog at writethatthang.com.
Interestingly, a quick glance of someone’s cart contents might reveal the truth of the person pushing the cart. In my cart, this particular day, you’d probably see a bottle of wine wedged somewhere between the chocolate and Metamucil.
Trying to forget my numerous irritations, I continued checking things off the list when in the far distance between frozen foods and the bread aisle I hear the consistent sound of squeaking.
Deciding between a small or large loaf of high-fiber bread, I was distracted with the irritating squeak, squeak, squeaking sound. My eyes shifted the aisle to see if anyone else was agitated by the ear-piercing squeal motoring its way towards the bread aisle.
I reached for the bread that promises a fiber-rich cleansing, when a motorized cart squeals around the corner with its senior driver at the helm wearing a sweatshirt proclaiming he was the “World’s Best Grandpa.” Clearly, he was oblivious to the rusty wheel screeching its high pitch of despair when asking the Target employee, “Where’s the Pepsi?”
I had already wandered off and was heading in that exact direction of the beverage aisle when I heard “World’s Best Grandpa” kick his motor scooter into high gear, restarting the rusty squeal all over again.
A flash in my peripheral vision noticed that “Go Cart Gramps” overshot his destination and screeched by the beverage aisle. Discovering this, he immediately did a U turn in his motor buggy, creating a grating and falsetto sound.
FINALLY, heads turned with displeasing looks, and I wasn’t the only one with ringing eardrums. “Geriatric Mario Andretti” was going all NASCAR in Target and wreaking havoc in every grocery aisle he rolled through. This “World’s Worst Driver” didn’t have a clue his calamity cart was driving Target shoppers to the edge. Or, was it just me?
Next, I escaped to the household section for a pretty candle that could be added to my midlife survival kit, wherein were the sweet sounds of NOTHING and the solitude scent of lemon lavender. Far off in the distance “Mayhem Mario” was annoying other poor souls and possibly looking for a can of WD40!
Meanwhile, I was dipping my nose in the aroma of Tahitian Vanilla and relishing the serenity when, unbelievably, the moment was invaded with that recognizable sound.
If you were standing next to me, you would’ve noticed the shock and awe look on my face. I barely got my nose out of Tahiti, when I looked towards the end of the aisle and like a buzz saw was Target’s new NASCAR nuisance screaming by with wheel wailing in high throttle.
Was “World’s Most Annoying Gramps” out to get me?
I did what any annoyed premenopausal woman would do. I BUSTED out laughing!
There I stood alone in Target’s candle aisle laughing myself to tears. I was doubled over, trembling with laughter. I knew I had to compose myself, so I managed to pull myself together, escape the candle aisle in an upright position and safely make it to the checkout line.
While unloading my survival necessities, it dawned on me that my shoulders felt lighter, my head felt euphoric, and the tightness in my chest was gone.
Thanks to “World’s Best Grandpa,” he eventually helped me forget my irritations with a good resounding belly laugh.
Surprisingly, there’s nothing better than the medicine of laughter to improve your disposition and ease your squeaky wheel.
— Laurie Oien
Laurie Oien is a wife and mother living in Minnesota and determined to uncover the second half of life with zest and zeal. She has a background in marketing and accounting for the last 25 years and recently discovered that one can’t live by adding machines and numbers alone. Therefore, she created a humorous lifestyle blog. Laurie has been a contributor to Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Midlife Boulevard. Also, she’s a featured author in the anthology, Feisty After 45, released by Mills Park Publishing. Laurie blogs at A Square of Chocolate.