Monday, August 10, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

When I was in the 8th grade, I chose the language I would study in High School. There was only a single criterion considered: speaking in public. Because I did not want to speak my native language in front of a room full of people, much less a foreign language in a room full of people, I chose Latin. Seriously? Who knows how Latin sounded back in the day? And we're not going to the Vatican. Case closed. I studied Latin. I tutor Latin. I have taught Latin. Our Young Son is a Latin scholar. Scholar sounds better than student.

Fast forward to college, where I found that to do what I wanted to do in my sorority, I would have to talk in front of women to be an officer, I stepped up, opened my mouth and spoke. A LOT. TOO MUCH. Then I became a teacher. Speaking to children, even teenagers, wasn't a big deal. Then I became an actual public speaker, by virtue of the fact that I had no choice if I wanted to stand in front of an unruly wedding party at a rehearsal, or speak at a large national convention of childbirth educators. Let's just say I have become comfortable with speaking to a group of people, even a large group of people. Even unprepared.

Our Young Son was asked to speak for his Mission Team at the Mission Supporters' Dinner, an annual affair, at church. He has poise, he is calm, he can run a whole wedding reception single-handedly, so I wasn't so ruffled by that. Then I totally forgot. I guess you could call it denial. I should have realized why he got his hair cut a whole WEEK before school starts. The night before we talked about a couple of things, and I tossed off some casual advice that I had actually heard from a TV show (Madmen, in case you wonder how I waste hot summer afternoons): Pick one person and make eye contact. Don't say anything that doesn't support the point you are making. Tell your story, don't make a speech.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the huge fellowship Hall full of several hundred people, I got a knot in my stomach. A GIANT-SIZE knot. What's up with that? Our Young Son was speaking, not me. To hundreds of people, from a podium, with a microphone.
I discovered a truism of my life as a mother: I would rather speak to 100,000 people, unprepared, than be in the room when one of my children is speaking.

I had a hint of it when Pretty Pretty Princess gave her Senior Speech, but her school is such a tight, close-knit community, that while I was on edge, I wasn't flat-out uncomfortable. The ginormous Fellowship Hall at church, with hundreds of parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, MINISTERS....that spooked me. For him. I didn't want to sit at a table - we were late, so that was hypothetical, there were no table seats to be had. I couldn't eat dinner - but I don't like white meat of the chicken, so that was covered.

I was undeniably nervous for him. Sweating-type nervous. Note that he, himself, our Young Son was self-proclaimed: NOT nervous. He didn't speak first, so as soon as the people started telling their stories, I started feeling ....scared? Nervous? Something unable to be named?
I texted him -

Me: "Be sure to say your name, stand up straight and hold your head up."

Young Son: "I'm going to go up there and mumble, look at my feet and chew gum."
As he approached the podium, La Petite Jockette came to attention, apron and all. She didn't appear to be too concerned. She had been in the back scraping dishes, so I guess that's some perspective.
Our Young Son has grown this summer. He's tall and lanky, and self-assured. From where I sat, he did not look tall and lanky, he looked small in a BIG ROOM. Sorry. He stood, said his name and gave a taut, well reasoned talk, with a solid balance of fact and personal stories. People laughed at his stories. Three times. If you have ever spoken to more than 5 people, you know that the laughter is what makes you able to keep talking. Silence is deadly. The room wasn't silent.
When it was over, he came to the back, and before he sat down with Jockette and relaxed a bit, he pulled from his pocket his little piece of notebook paper with bullet points, which as it appears, is a solid 5 paragraph essary:
  • Intro - Name, grade school

  • Baltimore: what we did - park, movie, zoo, DC

  • Why I went - had fun last year; wanted to be a leader, Uneasy about being on daycamp

  • Differences - no visual goal/progress; harder work for me

  • What I learned . . .

He told funny stories about how running a daycamp for 4th graders was more difficult than the manual labor of building a house with Habitat for Humanity, he talked about how he struggled because he couldn't see solid, measurable progress at the end of the day, he revealed that he napped daily. Our Young Son talked for about 7 minutes, from a folded, handwritten set of bullet points

  • What I learned...

As it turns out, what our Young Son learned, and what I learned as he spoke, are the same - and this I can quote verbatim:
"I learned that God will use me how He wants, not how I want.

"I learned that God has a plan, even when I don't see it."

"I learned that God will always choose the right path."

Man, I hope we both remember that.Still a church supper.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summer of Love - Neel's Wedding

Neel and Jon got married this summer. Yep, I snagged that photo right off Facebook. It was a glorious evening, full of all the unexpected things that make weddings more than just a party. Those things are stories - and there are lots of love stories in this wedding weekend!

Neel wore her mom's dress - altered just a bit. It has such a vintage feel, with a very contemporary cut. Lovely. Feel that mommy-love, just oozing everywhere?

I'm sure Mom was lovely too. In that dress I mean. That's her finger, showing me the cool details. Me, the wedding dress afficionado.

Mom - who we will call HAPPY, just for fun, was lovely on Neel's wedding day - which I know, because I was there with her. Her mother-of-the-bride dress has a story. A sister story.

Happy wore a sublimely cute dress - gauzy and bare, with a floaty, flirty skirt. Her sister, we'll call her RUTHIE, whose daughter was recently married, had bought an adorable dress which she wore to her daughter's rehearsal dinner - little straps and a glittery bubble-esque tulle skirt. Navy. (Hold that thought)

Fast forward in time. Happy ordered a dress for Neel's wedding - which unbeknownst to either sister - was identical to Ruthie's. Good thing Neel's mom Happy didn't try to pull a Red-Carpet like surprise and just show up at the wedding in her glam new dress. Because Happy and Ruthie would have been dressed like twins, as Ruthie was planning to wear said dress to Neel's wedding. Now, many years past living in the same house as sisters, whenever they get dressed up, they have to check and make sure that they aren't going to show up at some big gala party or wedding wearing the same dress. (Actually, they would probably be fine with that - TWINKIES for the night!) Not just a similar dress, but the identical dress, down to the navy color. Lots of sisters borrow and lend dresses - nope, not this duo. They each PURCHASED one of the same party-dress. Without talking about it. That's living proof of some bizarre sisterly connection of love.

And AS IF that wasn't enough of a story, Happy got to the church and realized that she had forgotten to bring her little sheer and glittery wrap that she was going to wear to make the dress less bare for the church. To be - you know - covered, sort of. This was the conversation:

Happy: Oh, my thingie that I was going to wear. That shawl thing. That I bought just for this wedding. It's not here. Somebody call Dad right now.
Laurence, bride's sister: Is he at HOME? Or you mean call him and make him go home? ......OK, what do I say? Mom, I don't think you need it. (Laurence is meanwhile dialing....not to worry)
Happy: I don't care. I bought it. I want it and it's in the attic. He's going to kill me. Oh, he'll deal.
Laurence: Hey, Dad. Are you still home? Mom wants you to get her wrap thing. Mom - where is it?
Happy: It's in a box in the attic. ( at my house, that would have been a deal breaker)
Laurence: Dad, it's in a box in the attic. Mom - what does the box look like?
Happy: Tell him it's in a white box, on top of that thing that sits next to those boxes that hold....bleh, bleh, bleh. (Remember, Dad was in a tux)
Laurence: I know it's hot, Dad. Mom, I don't think you actually NEED that wrap. It's pretty like it is.
Happy: Tell him to keep looking, the box is about 8 x 12 inches and is white. He'll find it. (I'll be honest, at this point, my mouth was hanging open. In our attic a white box the size of a sheet of notebook paper - not in a million years.)
Laurence: I know, Dad. I know. Yes, she wants it. I think it's like a really thin shawl. Yeah, I know it's hot. Yeah, we're hot but she wants the shawl.
Happy: Tell him....tell him....tell him...Oh, I don't know. He'll find it.

20 minutes later a knock at the door. It was DAD, who will from this point forward be known as HERO-Dad, standing with the white box. He didn't cross the threshold. His opening words:

Hero-Dad: (from the door) Oh, Happy, you look awesome. But here's the box. The thing's black right? (Don't tell - but Hero-dad had eyes for HIS bride first and all night long).
Happy: Navy blue. Give it to me.

A frenzy of tissue paper and tulle ensued as the box was opened, followed by various shaping and draping the sheer-tulle-with-glitter-and-beads shawl. With lots of "What do you think. This way? With this part to the side? " The end-game? She did not wear the shawl. Or wrap. Or blue thing in the white box. Hero-Dad never said a word (that I heard, anyway). That's the kind of story that makes a wedding soar.
So - we got everyone dressed and ready to rock and the photographer came into the brides' room, which is an overwhelmingly female domain. Nonetheless our photographer came in to give instructions about going outside to take some pictures. The instructions centered on how hot it was outside, and how quick it was going to be.(The photo-shoot was not short, though it was really, really hot.) I know they are headed out the door because of two things - one, I see that the bridesmaids all have their bouquets in hand. Two, I see the veil in Neel's hair. I jammed that comb on that veil up into her stiff-wedding-day-hair. Hairspray and bobby pins are two of my BFFs, especially when it's 104 outside. I only jammed it up in there about 12 times before she ever got down the aisle.
This was Neel's flower palette. That's what Greg-the-florist-god and I call it, to make me sound all professional. If you had X-ray vision, or if I had photographed it, you would know that cascading from the flowers was some gorgeous ivy, that grew on the front of Happy's house. For this wedding, she had been 'growing out' her ivy so there would be plenty. (OK, don't tell anybody, but her house had enough vines hanging off it that one might consider second story window entry a possibility, using only ivy as a means of access.) Happy told Greg to cut as much as he needed - "there's plenty, there's a LOT and it's driving Hero-Dad crazy." And so that was the first summer trim of Happy's ivy. It was lush, heavy, home-grown ivy , and nothing makes a wedding story like home-grown.
Once they got down the aisle, the plan, per the program, was for two scriptures to be read. I had the doors open because there were people standing back there in the foyer, peering through the tripods, and because I wanted to hear the scriptures (also, to see the trailing home-grown ivy, over the door, because that kind of stuff matters to glam wedding planners)

The preacher totally blew over that minor part of the worship service - the BIBLE. Two scripture readers - professionals at that - stood as cued, waited as instructed, and gloriously at some point realized that there was going to be NO SCRIPTURE read at this wedding, so they unobtrusively slid back to their seats. One of the readers had come all the way from GERMANY. God knew. Also, each person in the packed chapel who was reading the program knew. (Side note, the planning of that ceremony, the selection of songs and scripture and structure of that program took about 139 man hours - at least 75% of that in the groom's time alone. Everytime I mentioned it - that we needed to just decide and move forward, Neel looked at me and said "What can I say, he's a lawyer! Can you tell?" Ahhhhh - young love! A necessity for survival of Marriage, Year 1)

The preacher apologized profusely for his omission. Then, he proceeded to dance like the village shaman at the reception. All. Night. Long. (Preachers usually show for a meet-and-greet for wedding receptions, because, well Sunday is a pretty taxing day for them - so props to the preacher on the night of dancing with the natives, and I'm so, so sorry I missed his sermon the next day because it was probably really short.)

SO: Pray, pray, pray, vows, vows, vows, marry, marry, marry. And we're done. Did I mention that it was HOT? Because it was. It's the same weekend we got married, lo these many years ago. Hot then, hot now. Why is HOT still an issue? We shall see, my friends, we shall see.Nothing like a glass of chilled champagne with berry in the sunset. Especially when the sunset means that it's still hot. Let's have a primer on air conditioning lore, which we can call "A Comfortable Room." At best, a typical air conditioner unit will provide a 20 degree difference in the indoor and outdoor temperature. Ask any airconditioning guy when he's trying to fix the a/c in the 110 degree heat. Don't expect 60 degrees. Expect 90 degrees inside.

Our Young Son and La Petite Jockette were at the Club acting as point-people. I got a couple of calls from him. Maybe about 6. His rule for calling me - something's wrong. I hate to see his name pop up on the screen.

YS: Mom, it's ...uh...pretty hot here.

Me: How hot?

YS: It's hot. Too hot, and I have told them but now I can't find anybody who works here.

Me: Is it so hot that the cake is going to melt?

YS: I guess we'll see if the cake melts. Just warning you. Also, the violin people aren't here.

ME: Keep the doors closed, every single door. Turn off the overhead lights. Put foil over the west windows. Stuff newspaper in all the cracks. And if you find someone, make them turn it down to 60 and open up the doors to all their kitchen boxes and put fans in front of them. Also, leave the chairs for the musicians.

YS: Yes m'am. I'm just telling you though, it's hot. And I'm leaving to change clothes. It's too hot to do it here.

Voila! 100 degrees outside, 80++ degrees inside. We were actually glad to get 90 degrees because the power was off at the Club the entire week before this wedding, so NO air conditioning was a distinct possibility. (Yes, yes, yes, I did have a very sound plan for addressing the issue if there was absolutely no power at the Club. I did. Nobody asked what that plan was, but I promise, the alternate plans were absolutely in place. Because I'm like that. No flying without a safety net in the glam wedding business)

Part two of "A Comfortable Room" - when you put 375 people in a small enclosed space when it's blazing hot inside and a dance band driving the action, it gets hot. Not just a little hot, but a lot hot. Way TOO hot. And at the end of the night, a club staffer finally filled me in that one entire 'chiller' of the 3 we needed for the space we were using - one WHOLE CHILLER- wasn't working at all. Killed in the storm of the previous weeks.

There's a complicated equation (which I never use, because I have *another way*) to figure out how hot it is inside. Temperature - a/c - 1 chiller +crowd + dance band - champagne + men in tuxes- beer x age of the Mother of the Bride = HOT, way too hot.

The most reliable indicator of the temperature at a wedding is the *father of the bride*, in our case HERO-Dad. Everytime he caught my eye we had a version of this conversation

Hero-dad: It's awfully hot in here. Is there anything we can do about it, oh Glam-wedding-planner that you are!

Me: Yeah, let me see if I can find somebody. (Note, I am sweating profusely myself - profusely is too mild a term, actually)

Hero-dad: Is it just me? This tux? I think people are going home because it's so hot.

Me: OK, let me see what I can do. Why don't you dance with Happy? What can I get you to drink? Eat some of that Ben & Jerry's ice cream from the cart over there.

INSERT THE ICE CREAM STORY: I will, thank you. The groom LOVES Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, so the bride decided that it would be a delightful surprise to have a B&J ice cream cart at the reception. It took roughly 17 conversations - conversations at her house, text conversations, conversations in the carpool line (taught at same school last year), conversations via email, whispered conversations... to decide what flavors to choose. Also how and where to set it up. We had all that contracted and diagrammed out - but still, our Young Son realized early that they were setting up a bar in that spot. We didn't want a bar! Ice cream there! We physically rearranged the tables on the spot. The ice cream cart had a steady and long line for most of the evening. Men in tuxes, women in silk, with champagne in one hand and ice cream in the other! Stunning! Summertime and the living is easy.

NOW - back to the "Is it just me, or is it sweltering in here" story:

So - then I walked around, sweating, for 20 or 30 minutes until I found a Club manager

ME: It's like a thousand degrees in here. We talked about this! We agreed that you'd cool it down...we agreed that we'd keep the doors closed all day long...bleh, bleh, bleh on the ass-kicking.

Club Guy: I know, but when it's this hot outside.....when there are this many people.....bleh, bleh, bleh - excuse making.

Then - 30 minutes later, repeat the cycle. Eventually, I told Hero-Dad to take off his jacket. Being the HERO that he is, he kept the jacket on. As did his son, a groomsmen. Genetic heroism in tuxedos.

Did the heat seem to bother the bride? Not at all? She rose to the occasion. One facet of this occasion being the weekend of Michael Jackson's death. Thus, every cover band in the nation did a whole Michael Jackson set (just guessing on the whole 'every band in the nation' thing.) We had our own little MJ Memorial. Neel presided.

LOTS of men were NOT heroic and did take off the jackets.

Way over in the right corner there, in the green dress ....
. . . is Laurence, the sister of the bride,( last mentioned on the phone with her dad about the not-to-be-worn-but-awesome-shawl.) Next to her is Spencer, her husband. Laurence was my bride a few years ago. Her wedding anniversary and Neel's will forever be just one day apart. Laurence's husband, related to this tux-wearing family by marriage, straddled the dress code. The jacket is off - but the tie is ON (Remember that HERO-Dad and semi-heroic brother stayed in the full get-up) Jon has a bit to learn.

A wedding is a family love story. We plan and plot, we get quotes and contracts, and we draw layouts. Honestly, not sure how this was done without cell phones - oh, yeah! I did it without cell phones.

For this family, the last weekend in June will ALWAYS be a weekend full of love stories. No talk about those contracts and layouts, no worries about flowers and bands. They will remember that Neel wore Mom's dress, how Happy and Ruthie ALMOST wore the same dress, that Uncle Mark wore one flip-flop, how Dad became a HERO by finding a box in the attic, the preacher forgot the scripture, and grandmother sat on the front row, with a little help from the two Marks in the family, that MJ died the week before, so songs like Billy Jean and Man in the Mirror formed the soundtrack of the wedding week. They will remember the hot summer before Laurence and Spencer headed to Chicago for graduate school and brother Mark to medical school, after giving a live demo of his doc-worthy gentleness with his grandmother. They'll remember the ice cream and the champagne, and they'll laugh as they tell the stories again and again. What a job I have - seriously! I'm so, so grateful I get to be a part of those love stories!
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