Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Night of the Red Yugo

In writing down all of these stories for posterity, I do cringe when I think of the effect it may have on my mother.  She has been amply warned.  I am trying to appease the karma gods in the hopes that history doesn't repeat itself.  I'm also remembering these things about my younger self, and trying to absorb as much of the lesson as I can remember.  Onward.

When I was 15, I had a good friend named Carol.  We'd been friends since 7th grade.  We ended up going to different high schools, but we remained friends.  My family loved Carol.  She was different from my other friends in a lot of ways.  She was a major non-conformist, dressed differently, was insanely artistically talented, and probably one of the smartest people I have ever known in my life. Her sense of humor was piercing and unmatched. She had awesome taste in music and we saw incredible shows together. Among them were General Public, The Cure, and The Untouchables, all in Hollywood. I remember bad fashion and even worse eye makeup. We had tickets to see Fishbone, but we didn't end up going for reasons I can't remember.  I still regret it.  She got me into The Specials and basically all things ska. Another thing Carol had going, from a teenager's perspective at least, was very little parental supervision.  Her mom and dad owned a boat, and spent a lot of time on it, leaving her and her older sister home to pretty much fend for themselves.  In fact, my memories of her parents are very dim, I may have only met them once or twice.

So one night, I was invited to go out to a club in Hollywood with Carol and her boyfriend.  I think there was a band playing, maybe they knew them?  Her boyfriend was in a band.  I honestly can't imagine another reason why 15 year old girls would find themselves allowed into a club in Hollywood, but there we were.  Truth be told, I remember little of the night.  We started drinking early.  I had my very own bottle of Night Train.  Ha!  This is funny...I just googled Night Train so I could describe it for my readers who don't know what it is.  The first link popped up on  It describes the following:  

Night Train Express
17.5% alc. by vol.
Don't let the 0.5% less alcohol by volume fool you, the Night Train is all business when it pulls into the station.  All aboard to nowhere - woo wooo!  The night train runs only one route: sober to stupid with no round trip tickets available, and a strong likelihood of a train wreck along the way.  This train yard favorite is vinted and bottled by E&J Gallo Winery, in in Modesto, CA.  Don't bother looking on their web page, because they dare not mention it there.  As a clever disguise, the label says that it is made by "Night Train Limited."  Some suspect that Night Train is really just Thunderbird with some Kool-Aid-like substance added to try to mask the Clorox flavor.  Some of our researchers indicated that it gave them a NyQuil-like drowsiness, and perhaps this is why they put "night" in the name.  

I am not lying when I tell you...that description is so 100% accurate and reading it just made my stomach hurt.  Holy Moses, that stuff was vile.  I'm pretty sure that this particular night was my one and only trip on the Night Train, for reasons that are forthcoming.  There are a lot of reasons I can't stomach NyQuil, but now that I'm really thinking about it, that evening may be the reason.  So!  There we are in a parking lot in Hollywood, drinking our cocktails.  Very glamorous.  I remember being hungry and somehow acquiring a large bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.  They tasted amazing.  I'm fairly sure that my cocktails and chips were my dinner that evening, and I'm positive that everyone can predict what happened soon after.  The club spun.  I fell numerous times.  I was taken outside and threw up in an alleyway.  The parking lot spun.  A guy Carol knew took pity on me and put me in the backseat of his red Yugo and locked me in.  This sounds awful and dangerous and it WAS, but he honestly was just trying to keep me safe.  The backseat began to spin, and I felt that I would be the worst person in the world if I threw up in this nice dude's car, so I scrambled toward the passenger door to unlock it before hurling myself (and the contents of my stomach) onto the asphalt.  The guy was nearby, and was impressed by my efforts.  I clearly remember him saying, "Man, THIS girl has the makings of a champion drinker!"  SIGH...

My friend Carol emerged from the club eventually, and stalked down the street.  Wait!!  What's going on, you drove me here, how am I going to get home?  She had had a fight with her boyfriend and strode down the street at top speed, not listening to anyone around her.  Her boyfriend ran after her.  I waited awhile before it became clear that she was not going to be returning soon.  It was late, I don't even want to guess what actual time it was, but I had to call my dad.  It had to have been at a phone booth since it was 1985 or 1986.  Here's where I cringe today...I was drunkedy drunk drunk.  I called my poor dad to let him know that, not only would I not be making curfew, but that I no longer had a way home from Hollywood to Altadena.  And there was NO WAY I could hide the fact that I was hammered out of my mind.  I remember him asking me where Carol was, and I said, "I don't know, she had a fight with him and she ran off.  But I met this really nice guy named Mike, and he said he'll drive me home."  Gee...I'm sure that put his mind at ease.  I continue to be sorry, to this day, for doing that to my dad.  There were plenty of other times that I engaged in crazy, dangerous behavior, but my parents were usually kept in the dark.  This time he knew, and all he could do is wait for me to arrive home.

Now is when I tell all of you how and why I was the most fortunate girl on the planet that night.  Mike F., (not to be confused with my husband), truly was the nicest guy in the entire world.  He absolutely looked out for me.  He drove me straight home, he never laid a hand on me, and he even walked me to my door and handed me off to my dad.  Mike F. was sober, and my dad told me later he couldn't believe how lucky I had gotten.  I don't think he grounded me, because Carol had kinda left me hanging.  The fact that I was 15 and plastered didn't seem to register that much, but that's a different story for another time.  Of course, the next morning I woke up and I thought I was going to die.  Carol called and apologized, and told me Mike F. had asked for my number.  Hmmmmm.  Well, okay.  I wasn't interested in him in a romantic way, but he HAD been exceptionally cool and nice to me, so we started to talk on the phone.  Looking back, I cannot think of a single moment that evening in which I could have possible appeared charming or appealing in any way.  The only thing that I can think of that might have impressed him was my sheer determination not to vomit in his car. By the time we met, I was trashed and regurgitating everywhere.  How incredibly attractive! Ugggggg.

Mike F. and I talked on the phone quite a bit.  He was a few years older and lived a few towns away.  I think he may have graduated already, while I was still a sophomore. I could consult my journals to check the accuracy of this, but I would probably become mortified at what I would read and lose interest in this post, so I shall go forth.  Mike F. worked at the flower district in downtown LA, and at some point, I did indeed receive roses.  I didn't know what to do.  I did go on a date with him, once.  The funniest thing about our "date" was when we walked out the door of my mom's house and I asked him where his car was.  "Right there."  A white Yugo was parked in front of my house, not a red one.  He found that hilarious and began to point out all the other things that were red that eyeballs.  My face when we got to my dad's house.  Probably at least part of the contents of my stomach.  His car though, was always white and I had never been more sure that there had been some mistake.  

We stayed friends for years, through girlfriends of his and boyfriends of mine, Mike F. was always looking out for me.  When I moved to SFSU he actually sent me a stun gun to use for protection.  One night we went to see a show in Berkeley and my car was broken into and the stun gun was stolen.  Whoops. At one point, he gave me his calling card number so I could make long distance calls when I had run out of points on my dorm phone.  That was lovely until he called one night and said he'd gotten a $200 bill.  Double whoops...I paid him, of course.  

I lost track of Mike F. in my early 20's, and I never found out what happened to him.  I want to thank him for always being so cool to me and for being such a good friend.  MY Mike maintains that our friendship probably wasn't what I thought it was, and he probably carried a torch for me all along.  I disagree, but there we are.  Whatever the case was, I have intense gratitude for having had this person in my life.  I also lost track of my friend Carol, who had some rough years from what I've heard.  However, I also heard that she pulled herself together, has children, and is also some sort of scientist.  This makes sense, as she was incredibly intelligent and gifted.  I miss her, and would love to find her one of these days.

I didn't deserve to be lucky on The Night of the Red Yugo. I was reckless, irresponsible, and incredibly, incredibly stupid.  There was clearly an angel looking out for me that night who came  in the form of a young man I'd never met who made sure I stayed safe and was properly delivered home.  I will forever be grateful that he took care of my pathetic, foolish 15 year old self. Thank you Mike F., wherever you are 

I still can't smell or eat Cool Ranch Doritos, or take NyQuil.  And I still swear that on that night, that car was RED.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Raising MY daughter.

Madeline turned 14 over the summer.

My daughter woke up one morning with legs coming out of her ears.  She suddenly has perfect hips.  Her face has changed.  Her room has turned from one for a cute little tween with drawings and a Justin Bieber calendar to posters of her favorite bands and skateboard company stickers everywhere. Justin Bieber is lame now.  (Saw that coming.)   I stood in her room the other night as she slept and just marveled for a bit over that room, a teenager's room.  The little rubber stamps I used to paint butterflies and dragonflies flying across her light yellow walls are still in her closet.  Didn't I just do that?  Now she has black sheets and her wall is covered with her drawings of wolves and  posters of Hot Chelle Rae that she wasted all the ink in her printer to create.  None of  her clothes fit.  I feel like the worst mother ever, but when I was packing her up for a field trip to the Marin Headlands, I said, "Where are the rest of your jeans?"  Turns out she had been wearing the same two or three pairs over and over because the ones I remembered don't fit. I bought them all at the same place so they looked the same. It would have been helpful if she had SHARED this information with me, I still do her laundry!  I'd been washing clothes that were never worn and didn't fit.  I digress.

The problem with this whole turning 14 thing is that my daughter is still  11.

Madeline has always been an old soul. She's special, and I'm not just saying this because she's mine.  It's more of an awe thing than a braggy, pride thing.  She has never had a shy moment in her life, she can talk to anyone, and she's wise beyond her years.  We didn't make this happen, she came this way. Her pre-school teachers were in awe of her on Halloween. When she was four, her class was an absolute cloud of sequins and tiaras, every single solitary little girl in her class was some sort of princess.  Not my girl.  She was a pirate, and not a cutesy one either.  She meant business.  She had an eye patch and a hook and pretty much stayed in character all day. (And yes, I did dress my son as a lobster because I couldn't resist and he was only a baby and had no choice.)

I had to have "the talk" with my girl a lot sooner than I would have liked to. She was 7, and was informed by a classmate what sex was.  Her classmate was not particularly well informed.  This would be a good time to point out that I have perfected my poker face over the past 16 years of being a public school psychologist.  I can keep a straight face in almost every situation if I have I did.  I told her the basics. I told her that it was only for grown ups who love each other and it's best if they're married.  I also told her that she could always ask me questions about it and that I promised I would always tell her the truth.  And soooooooo, she started in with the questions.  Detailed questions. I'd thought due to her incredulous expression that the talk was winding down.  I was mistaken. After I had answered every single question I could muster, I walked into my bedroom and my brain exploded.

I know people in my midst that feel that I should "guide" more, and perhaps not be as open as I have been.  But you know what?  This child is SO her own person that if I attempted to mold her into what I believe she "should" be, or believe what she "should" believe, the outcome would be that I would truly get shoved away and I would never get the pleasure of being in this amazing person's true company. My goal in life right now is to keep her talking to me.  I agree that sixth graders should not have to hear about sex or drugs or tons of profanity.  But they DO, and I can't shelter her from hearing about these things.  So I answer questions about these things too.  Why do people try drugs?  Why do some girls sleep around?  When can she have a boyfriend?  Uhhhhhhhh... "High school."  When, mom?  "That completely depends, my dear, on your grades and behavior and respect and the kind of boy he is and we have to know him and know his family and HE has to have good grades and he has to be smart and he has to treat you with respect and it'll be better if you're friends first blahblahblahblah."  At this point I hope that I'm making it sound like more trouble than it's worth. What she isn't aware of, at this juncture, is the kind of girl she is.  She's a smart girl, but isn't a geeky kid. She can hang out with boys or girls and be equally comfortable.  She's got a wicked sense of humor and is creative and artistic. She's an amazing listener and a very good friend, and she has absolutely no idea how cute she is.  We are DOOMED.

The future scares the tar out of me.  The best thing that I can do for my daughter is make sure her feet are securely planted on solid ground, and then she can venture forth and decide what she believes in and feels in her own heart.  I can tell you all right now that there will be many moments when I don't like this, I can feel them coming.  My mother is a very strong woman who gave me a solid sense of right and wrong, although I sometimes engaged in the wrong anyway.  She wasn't always available to talk, but all these years later at 42, the lessons stand strong in my soul and won't budge.  My late father was the most incredible listener, as was my grandmother. Whenever I talked to either of them, I received rapt, undivided attention.  I always felt like I was not just the only person in the room, I was the only person on the EARTH at that moment.  Nothing makes a young person feel more valued than being truly listened to and heard.  Considering how much of my work life involves listening, and often to people who I'd rather not listen to (never the children), coming home and immediately being called up on deck is freaking exhausting.  I will sometimes get texts from the other end of the couch or her room, "Mom, can I talk to you?"  My internal voice screams, "Aaaaarrgggg!!!  NO, can I please for the love of all that is holy have a MOMENT to take off my shoes and change my clothes and clear my head?"  My external voice says, "Sure."  I will always be available to listen when she wants to talk, even if I am semi-comatose.

I recently took her to see "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."  I would not have taken the average 11 year old girl to see this movie, but Maddie is mature and informed for her age.  Part of that is my fault, she asks about my work sometimes and I tell her.  Not everything, but enough to have her understand and be able to process some pretty heavy themes. She's a very open-minded girl and would never dream of treating anyone differently because of their color, wealth, sexual orientation, or religion.  She's an incredibly sensitive girl, and is the one her friends go to with their troubles. Anyhow... I absolutely loved the film, and at one point it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't let her know how much it meant to ME.  Because my adolescence is long gone, and while I look back with a combination of nostalgia and horror, she still has all of this in front of her.  It might not be cool to love something that her mom liked so so SO much.  So I toned it down.  I read the book, and she's reading it now.  I want her to understand that everyone feels alone at one time or another when they're teenagers.  Maybe it's more like a lot of the time, or the majority of the time for many. As hard as it is to be a teenager, everyone has to keep plowing through and they'll survive it.  I want her to know that in the process of surviving adolescence, there will be amazing moments with friends, music that hits her at exactly the right time,  laughter that will make her stomach hurt, and priceless experiences that she will never, ever forget.

Important fact to point out...I am NOT my daughter's "friend".  I am her mother, 100%.  However, I laugh when she's funny, which is often.  I like talking to her about music and books and patiently listen to her talk about girl drama and crushes.  She enjoys laughing with/at me when I dance in her room and pretends to be horrified when she's just secretly just impressed and doesn't want to admit it.  Okay, maybe she's really mortified when I try to do Gangnam Style, but I truly enjoy myself!  And if I may, I recently schooled both of my children on Just Dance 4, and I have proof! This was a text to her cousin, and this was the biggest compliment EVER.  I was revered for about a half an hour, and it was worth the heart attack I nearly had as a result.

She has yet to attempt to walk out the door in anything inappropriate, but believe me when I tell you that noise will get SHUT down immediately.  She can't date. That sounds rational and normal, I realize, but she has friends in 6th grade who are "dating", and while it can only be so serious, these kids are getting far further along in the courting world than I would be willing to even entertain. My daughter is going to be good at getting into some trouble, the writing is on the wall.  So it's my job to keep her involved and busy in things she loves.  Anyone know of a really awesome advanced art class anywhere nearby?

There are non-negotiables.  No mean children are allowed to live in our house.  Kindness is a requirement, as is thinking about people who have less than we do, and trying to help when we have an opportunity. Disrespect doesn't fly for a moment, nor do shoddy grades that stem from indifference. They are required to be kind, caring, respectful, and hard workers.

I don't think that I'm all that unique, it's just been on my mind a lot lately. I'd consider us close, but I still lose it.  Make no mistake, the following phrases are often heard yelled in my house.  By me.  "Pick up your towel!  Can you please take the trash out, I don't want to ask you a third time!  Are there any dishes out by the computer?? You cleaned your room, do you SERIOUSLY think you cleaned this?? Maddie?  Maddie?!! MADDIE!!!! There is NO WAY you didn't just hear me calling you!"  As the weeks march on, these "requests" are met with deep sighs and rolled eyes, which are par for the course.  I have to keep reminding Mike that it's normal.  It's not acceptable, but it's ALL kinds of normal and sometimes we have to let an eye roll go by unchecked.  There are about 47,832 waiting for us, might as well wait for the big ones.

I need to stay very well-acquainted with this little person.  I see glimpses of me in her, although she is far more confident.  Pretty soon I may be receiving texts that are banishing me from her room, her feelings, her life.  Until that happens, I will remain available, incredibly proud, and constantly on her case.  Cheers to the next decade!