Junior Jacker

Photo By Osbornb via Wikimedia Commons

“Take your time, miss. Don’t worry; they won’t be able to see you.”

The detective flipped a switch. Five weary faces, illuminated by glaring fluorescent light, blinked in my direction.

“I’m strong,” I told myself. “I grew up watching Law & Order for god’s sake; I know how lineups work. I can do this.”

I was prepared to identify one of two men who carjacked me at gunpoint three days earlier.

I wanted him caught. Didn’t I?

“Take a look, miss.”

My fingers fidgeted with the purse strap hugging my torso. Unspoken questions rattled in my head:  “What if I’m wrong? What if I ruin a man’s life by mistake?”

“What if I don’t recognize him?” I asked, warily reviewing their faces.

“He may have purposefully changed his hairstyle,” the detective cautioned. “Or shaved his facial hair.”

“To disguise himself?” I asked.

“Exactly. A perp will do anything not to be identified by a victim.”

Victim. That word. In most areas of my life, I loved playing the victim. Poor me and all that. “Why aren’t I enjoying this?” I wondered. “I’ve earned it!”

Everything I owned was in that car – my Sony Walkman, running shoes and some cheap golf clubs. When two men, Perps Senior and Junior, tried to steal it, I fought back.

My gut reaction was fight! Good to know. Until Perp Senior ordered Junior to shoot me.

My first thought? “I’m going to get blood all over my car.”

“Shoot her, damn it,” Senior hissed.

Before Junior flashed me his gun, I looked into his young eyes. I wondered if it was my fear or his I saw reflected.

“Please don’t shoot me, please, please,” I pleaded, my words echoing in my ears.

“I don’t wanna to shoot her, man,” Junior responded, looking away.

“Junior didn’t want to shoot me,” I told myself. “He saved me. How could I send him to prison? He was scared, too.”

Junior was likely one of the men behind the glass in front of me. Senior was already in custody, caught with my keys in his pocket minutes after he ran away to the sounds of approaching police sirens. Junior outran the police that night.

“Where’s my anger?” I thought.  “A normal person would be angry.”

I couldn’t explain my internal conflict to the detective. He’d been kind to me; patiently explained each step of the process. He’d even bandaged my finger where Senior’s fury cut the flesh.

The detective likely attributed the tears trickling down my face to fear. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

“I’m not sure,” I whispered.

“I know this is hard, miss. We know we’ve got the right guy; his fingerprints were all over your car. Take another look,” he said gently.

I had a hunch about Number Three. His eyes. I wasn’t certain, and I couldn’t look at him again.

“I’m sorry,” I explained, bile rising in my throat. “I don’t recognize him.”

“Coward,” I chastised myself as I walked away.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for Week Five of their Summer Writer’s Series

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Guest Posting on Momwich.net Today!

I was prepared and eager to enjoy and connect with my daughters after getting some wonderful advice from one of my wisest friends.

I tried. Really.  I did.

Instead, I channeled Mommy Dearest. With my kids in tears, I did not anticipate what happened next.

Grace.

If you want details, check out my guest post, Definition of Grace, today at Momwich

As parents, what is your definition of grace? Let me know in the comment section!

Tangled Web

“These are my favorite cookies!” she said. “They’re Entenmann’s, right?”

In that moment, I had a choice. The first of many.

Save my face. Or save my ass.

I didn’t have time to bake my usual chocolate chip cookies for the potluck. My gooey, chunky cookies always garnered accolades from my fellow gymnastics team members. I prided myself on those cookies almost as much as I did my back handsprings, two things in high school I knew I did well.

I bought a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies, the distinctive bite-sized ones, put them on a decorative plate and brought them and my shame to the party.

I made a choice. My face.

“They’re not Entenmann’s,” I lied. “I made them. Yesterday.”

We stared at each other over the buffet laden with homemade goodies.

“Really?” said my teammate. “They taste and look exactly like Entenmann’s.”

Eyes now glued to the plate of frosted brownies between us, I chose again. Face.

“Do they?” I asked, fear dancing in my belly. “My mom found the recipe in a magazine, and I used it to make these cookies. I thought I’d try something new instead of my usual cookies. I didn’t know they’d taste like Entenmann’s!”

I looked up quickly to gauge my lie’s impact, unsure if I would ever stop talking.

Silence. She spoke first. A weak choice.

“These taste exactly like Entenmann’s. I want your mom’s recipe.”

I busied myself straightening the cookies on the plastic, flower-etched plate; popped one in my mouth to buy extra time and sugar-infused stamina.

“They do taste a little like Entenmann’s. Not exactly, but they’re close. I think I like my usual recipe better,” I offered.

Her eyes never left mine. “I have to have the recipe. Everyone’s going to want it.”

Panic. Face.

“I’m not sure I have it anymore,” I answered. “It was my mom’s recipe, and I don’t know if she kept it.”

My teammate never hesitated, “I’m sure she still has it. You used the recipe yesterday, right?”

My throat felt hot and prickly; the fifth cookie I swallowed no salve for my terror. “Right. Sure. I’ll ask my mom for it.”

Once home, I baked and inhaled a batch of cookies to soothe my shame. Momentarily sated, I weighed my options.

  • Make up a recipe and pass it off as magazine version
  • Convince my mom I was sick (does a sugar-induced coma count?) and stay home from school for a few weeks
  • Avoid my teammate for the rest of school year
  • Blame my mom for throwing out recipe

Sadly, I never considered changing schools or feigning a terminal brain malady. Or asking for help.

“Did you bring the recipe?” she asked.

My choice, repeated daily until I wore her down, “Oh, I forgot. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”

Lisa, if you’re reading, I hope you believe in the adage “better late than never.” I am sorry.

And yes, my ass feels better.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for Week Four of their Summer Writer’s Series

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Piggy, Piggy Redux

Not the banks in question.

In a recent post, Piggy Piggy, I exposed my illustrious criminal past. I’d like to tell you my early stealing experiences led me to become a cat burglar or international jewel thief or something equally dramatic and screenplay-worthy.

Unfortunately, I can’t yet report any prison time, foreign currency escapades or Swiss bank accounts. My only suspenseful international drama involved catching a train in Rome to evade the Italian authorities.

While I don’t have many strong memories of my childhood, the details of my four-year-old thievery (retold countless times over the years by my family members) are clear in my memory.

Some of my readers asked me to describe what happened next when my mom discovered me in the closet. This is for you…

As my mom slid the closet door open, I froze, terrified, and slowly dragged the two piggy banks deeper into the shadows between my pudgy legs.  “If I don’t look at her, she won’t see me,” I thought. And then I peaked. Slowly. When our eyes met, I knew. She saw me; she knew me.

“Mary Lynn, what the hell are you doing?” My mom never swears, but in my memory, she’s a bit wilder with her words.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Nothing? You’re taking your sister’s money! You’re being sneaky and naughty. Come out of there.”

Still clutching the piggy banks, I scooted my body through the closet door dragging coins under my fuzzy pink behind.

My mom explained that it was wrong to steal and helped me redistribute the money into our respective banks.

I don’t remember any spanking or yelling; I do remember feeling scared and ashamed. Even at that young age, I knew what I was doing was wrong and somehow had gotten the message that I had to be sneaky to get something I wanted. The sibling rivalry I felt went unnamed.

Writing about this incident started me thinking about how I would handle a similar situation with one of my daughters.  I asked some Facebook friends what they would do.

Advice from Facebook Friends

Jeanine Olson Chiappano I’d say she is going to make one strong business woman. Ha!

Joe Balice I would ask her if she was a democrat.

Xavier Christopher David FitzSimons I would ask her if she was a republican.

Alyson Probst Higgins I’m sure I would fly off the handle, rant & rave and judiciously hand out irrelevant punishments. And then take note of how much cash these kids have just in case the delivery guy shows up & I happen to be short. My kids used to pool their money to count it & then fight like mad trying to separate it again.

Debra Lynn I’d have the little pocket thief take some of her own money and donate it to charity, after the lecture of what is right to do in the world. As an elementary principal, I see lots of kids try this and I usually try to make the consequence a natural one that fits the crime. 😉

Brian Dietmeyer Natural consequences are great…pay it back with interest!!! We made our teenager volunteer at a soup kitchen as a result of some bad decisions.

Stephanie Jones In my book, it’s about creating a higher consciousness in helping the child to understand how her negative actions affect her sibling and in turn affect her in the end. We’re big on karma in my house. If you believe ‘what goes around comes around’, I believe it helps children to arrive at a higher state and to be more reflective on what outcome they want for themselves. Not altogether altruistic, but I’ve seen it work beautifully with my 13 and 14 year olds since they were small. It’s a simple concept that small children can grasp since they are ‘me’ oriented. As they grow older, it becomes less about self and more about kindness and care for others and the world around them.

Kathy Churay I would enroll her in a gifted math program. Clearly she’s destined for Wall Street.

Clearly, my friends are high keepers!

I also asked Ava, my eight year old, what she would say to her daughter in the same situation.

Advice from Ava

It looks like you want to make some money. Let’s think of some ways you could do that.

I love that kid.

Back to Me

When I spoke with my mom about this memory recently, she asked if I thought she had handled it okay all those years ago and if I thought there was a better way. Her willingness to learn, even after all her children are grown, is one of the things I admire most about my mom.

While I have no idea the best or “right” way to handle these situations, after some thought, I am clear of what I would like to tell my four-year-old self, a redo of sorts:

“Little one, what’s going on? Why are you hiding? Come on out of there, honey. You look like you feel scared and lonely. Let’s put the banks aside and cuddle for a minute. Would you like that? I know I would.

When I was your age I was jealous of my sister and felt like she got everything. I never believed there would be enough love or attention for me. I told myself my sister got everything and I didn’t think it was fair. I wanted what my sister had. Do you ever feel that way?

I was hurting inside and I needed a friend, someone I could talk to about how sad and lonely I was. Do you ever wish you had someone to talk with?

You don’t have to be ashamed of wanting more, honey. It’s okay to want more. It’s not okay to take things that aren’t yours. Next time you want more, come tell me and we’ll figure it out together. Ok?

Now, it seems to me you’d like to earn some more money. Am I right? Let’s think of some ways you could do that …

Is this an effective parenting strategy? I have no idea. I do know it is the amends I want to make to myself all these years later.

Thanks for reading.

I’m linking up with Things I Can’t Say‘s Pour Your Heart Out.

Projections & (Potter)more

Her excitement was palpable. And contagious. Every ounce of her eight-year-old being oozed enthusiasm.

“Mom, I can’t wait to see what house I get into!”

So began our journey into Pottermore, JK Rowling’s online world of all things Harry Potter. After signing up and answering a series of questions, the website determines the best Hogwarts’ “house” for each participant.

Reminiscent of college sorority rush, the warning signs were there. And I wasn’t prepared.

My daughter is obsessed with Harry Potter. She, like her forefathers, read the first Harry Potter book two dozen times and fancies herself a Hermione doppelgänger, bushy hair and bossy intellect alike. And similar to many fans, she expected to be chosen for Gryffindor, the heroes’ house.

The computer screen returned the verdict:  Hufflepuff.

My heart plummeted.

“Mom, I can’t be a Hufflepuff,” she moaned, her disappointment as intense as her original anticipation. “They are boring and dumb. I didn’t answer the questions right. I must be a Gryffindor!”

My first instinct was to disavow her feelings and remind her that Pottermore is a silly computer game with zero impact on real life.

Instead I hugged her while she cried and told myself we could weather this storm. And she was learning a valuable lesson.

But what the f**k was the lesson? Don’t let a computer algorithm determine your self-worth? Can an eight year old understand that lesson? Can her forty-something mom?

I flashed back to college sorority rush. Hundreds of young women, dressed to impress, chatting and mingling as if the rituals were natural experiences instead of contrived, competitive events. I chatted, smiled and hoped I would get what I wanted – entrance into the “right” houses.

I wanted validation that I was worthwhile, that I mattered and was acceptable. I got the opposite:  none of the houses wanted me.

I was devastated and inconsolable. My friends soothing words felt hollow and disingenuous. They were accepted, not humiliated and filled with shame. The message:  I was worthless and unwanted.

And now my daughter was a Hufflepuff. Despair!

As I hugged my heartbroken daughter and fought my insecurities, my thoughts cleared. Could I be projecting my own feelings of devastation on to her? Would this disappointment truly derail her youth or was it possible my daughter was a separate being, with distinct insight and wisdom? Could I let her have her own experiences without superimposing my own?

After frantically trying to undo and redo the computer test, my daughter grabbed the telephone.

“I’m going to call Lexie and find out what house she got into,” she declared.

Lexie, my niece and fellow diehard Harry Potter fan, was assigned to Slytherin, the evil Lord Voldemort’s house! And yes, Lexie was equally disappointed with her results.

Relieved and resigned, my daughter decided her computer-generated house assignment was a mistake and wouldn’t stop her from enjoying Pottermore’s many other enticing features.

Ms. Rowling, thanks for the lesson. Apparently, my daughter’s resilience and self-worth surprisingly and thankfully surpass my own.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for Week Three of their Summer Writer’s Series

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Piggy, Piggy

“Why does she have more than me?” I wondered. “It’s not fair.”

After listening for the whirring noises of my mom’s sewing machine in the basement of our split-level home, I slipped a butter knife from the kitchen and silently marched across the hall into my sister’s bedroom. My fuzzy, footed pajamas felt scratchy on my skin as I dragged my sister’s desk chair over to her tall dresser and hoisted her piggy bank into my arms.

I had spent the better part of the morning comparing the weight of my sister’s bank to my own. The data were consistent and clear. Her bank was heavier. She definitely had more money. It wasn’t fair.

Her bear-shaped bank was beautiful – silver-plated – a majestic figure with a sanguine expression on its face. My bank, shaped like a squat pig, was silver-plated, sure, but ugly and fat with a grimacing countenance. And decidedly lighter.

My heart racing, I carried both banks into my sister’s closet and carefully slid the door closed. Not all the way. It would look more natural that way, in case my mom came looking for me. A sliver of sunlight gleamed across the bear’s peaceful face as I tried to pry off the plastic plug.

“If only my fingers weren’t so stubby,” I told myself. “My mom’s fingers are long and graceful. Why aren’t mine like hers?”

The butter knife made quick work of the plastic cap. I carefully slipped some coins onto the hardwood closet floor. “I want hers and mine,” I thought. “I want all of it.”

Candy. I would buy candy. Reams of delicious, chocolatey goodness. Like Charlie in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I’d savor it, slowly and delicately, make the pleasure last forever. I wouldn’t gobble it up like that greedy girl, Veruca, in the movie. No way. And I wouldn’t have to share; wouldn’t have to stop eating until I wanted to.

The pennies would buy Bazooka bubble gum; the nickels, Gold Rush gum – the kind in the little draw-string pouches. I could taste the delicious banana flavor on my tongue as I quietly dug more coins out of the bear’s behind. Laffy Taffy with the dimes; Charleston Chews with the quarters.

“How did my sister get so many quarters?” I wondered. She was swimming in quarters.

“Grandpa? I bet Grandpa slips her quarters,” I thought.  “He doesn’t like me because I don’t want to give him hugs. My sister gives him hugs. I bet she gets quarters.”

I only got dimes. My beautiful, loving Italian grandmother secretly slipped me a dime every time I saw her, with the unspoken message I wasn’t to share, wasn’t to tell. I was her favorite, and she gave me the biggest hugs. She also gave me the biggest slices of her perfectly-delicious almond coffee cake. And those dimes.

I sensed the my mom’s presence moments before a rush of sunlight highlighted her dark features.

“Mary Lynn, what the hell are you doing?”

I am linking up with Yeah Write for Week Two of their Summer Writer’s Series

Opposites Attract: Ten Years & Counting

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Ten years of wedded bliss. Actually, I’ve used a new iPad app to determine exactly how many of our 3,650 days together have been blissful and how many  – not so much.

Our results:

Ten Years. That’s a long time for two people with well-documented commitment issues. We’ve had our ups and downs and have the bumps and bruises on our love to prove it.

Overall, it’s been a happy, laughter-filled road to ten years. But I don’t have anything concrete to compare it to. I could compare ours to our family or friends’ marriages, but who really knows what goes on in a marriage? And comparisons burn my ass every time.

While my husband and I are similar in many of the areas marriage experts say really matter:  mutual love and affection (at opposite times of the day), shared values (laughter), strong commitments (in-patient and out-), similar money styles (cheap), compatible sex drives (at opposite times of the day), and intense love for our children (when they’re asleep), our differences can be summed up in this exchange:

Me:  What happened to the silverware?

Mike:  I moved it. It’s now in the drawer nearest the phone.

Me:  Huh?

Mike:  We needed a change. I’m shaking things up a little!

Me:  What? Messing with the silverware is your idea of “shaking things up?”  What’s next – unpotting the plants? The silverware was fine where it was!

Mike:  I’m a renegade, honey. I thrive on change. Wait until you see the family room!

Where Mike embraces change, even seeks it out, I resist, fight and usually, after some drawer slamming and angry muttering, come around. Actually, the silverware works well by the telephone. The family room redesign – not so much.

Although we expertly push each other’s buttons, mostly we laugh, value each’s contribution to our family and love the bee-jeezus out of each other and our kids. And then we laugh some more.

At a recent wedding we attended, Mike and I considered whether we would want to be newly married again, our entire lives together in front of us. We decided not unless we could begin with all the hard-won wisdom we’ve gained over the past ten years.

We’ve walked through a lot together, and we both give as good as we get. On our recent anniversary getaway weekend, Mike told me that he understood going in to our marriage that I was going to be a pain in his ass. And that he was going to be a pain in mine. That we both deserved exactly what we got. And we both couldn’t have made a better choice. I think that’s romantic.

And, yes, I would do it all over again. Would you?

“He’s my baby

And I’m his honey

Never gonna let him go.”

John Prine, In Spite of Ourselves