If you can sign your own report card …

I like Halloween, honestly. It’s fun to see the kids outside having a good time in the fresh air. OK, they’re getting a year’s worth of cavity-causing goodies in one night, but they are outside and not on the Playstation/Xbox/Wii/whatever.

It’s also fun to see neighborhood kids grow and watch how their costume choices change. My kids have gone from being pink cuddle monsters and tigers to being dead soccer players and nerds. The dead soccer player costume was the best, I think. The LSF (long-suffering hubby) cut a cleat in half, imbedded it into the soccer jersey, and then doused the jersey with red paint and painted the kid’s face gray. Classic! And Mommy was minimally involved. DOUBLE SCORE for sexy, involved Daddies.

But I have some Halloween peeves. We do live in the hood, so we gotta set some limits:

If your costume implies “trick on the corner” instead of “trick or treat,” I’m going to give you the cheap candy that nobody likes. The Whoppers. The hard bubble gum. The knock-off m&ms. AND I’m calling your mama, because she did not approve that costume and you know she didn’t.

If you are old enough to drive the church van for the trick-or-treaters, you don’t get candy unless you get your butt out of the van and make sure the kids cross the street safely. Telling little Ralph to bring you a Reese’s won’t work. Get out of the van, do a head count. It’s not hard.

Don’t wear your actual McDonald’s uniform and expect candy! If it’s your brother’s uniform, and you’ve rolled up or pinned up the sleeves, OK. But don’t come into my house smelling like Big Macs and greasy fries. You are old enough to have a job. Buy some candy and help your mama give it out. But you do get props for working, baby; I ain’t gonna be mad at a brotha for holding a job.

If you can sign your own report card, you don’t get candy.

If you have aged out of the HS football program, you don’t get candy.

If I saw your picture in the police blotter last week, ya don’t get candy.

If your baby isn’t old enough for teeth, then she doesn’t get candy – I don’t care how cute her Rock Lobster costume is. Her big sister gets a very small book to READ to the baby. We keep a stash on hand.

If Big Mama isn’t a personal friend of ours, then you can’t take candy home to her.

If we hear you say “this is why I take that diabetes medicine, so I can eat all the candy I want,” ya don’t get candy.

If you fail to hide the ZigZag before knocking on the door, ya don’t get candy.

If you cannot take the joke of me saying “How about a trick?” then you don’t get candy. The phrase is ‘TRICK OR TREAT.’ That implies an option. Go find a dictionary if you don’t understand “implies” or “option.”

If I hear you talking back to your mama and daddy, ya get a lecture. Don’t you know your parents are tired?They work HARD. And it’s a recession – these costumes aren’t cheap! Don’t you know they’ll be up all night with you because you can’t stop eating the candy? You better thank them for putting up with your ungrateful behind and don’t let me hear you sassing them. I will TAKE your candy from you and sell it elsewhere. This goes for my kids, too.

That’s about it. Hope y’all have a lot of safe fun tonight. Special thoughts go to our friends in the frozen north and to our troops who are missing this time with their families.

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A true ghost story

As sometimes happens with divorce, the kids and the parents don’t or can’t reconcile until there’s a lot of water under the bridge. The long-suffering hubby (LSF) and his Pops were like that, not speaking for years, but by the time we were married, they had come to a sort of peace with each other. Pops was excited to know that we were having a baby when he found out we were pregnant. It’s not speaking ill of the dead when I say he made some nasty choices over the years, especially during and after the divorce. But as he and LSF aged, they formed a shaky truce. Pops always seemed pleased to see us, however rare it was.

But Pops also seemed ill each time we saw him and eventually was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He constantly traveled back and forth from South Carolina to North Carolina to Baltimore, I think looking for some thread that would hold him in this life. He had a new girlfriend who loved him and urged him to make amends with the family who would still speak to him, with his friends he had wronged, and with himself. He went through treatment, eventually wasting from a tall, slim man to a gaunt, bent person who struggled to walk and stand and hold a cigarette. They tell me that he once had been a big, broad person, huge-shouldered and burly, like LSF and his tree-trunk brothers, but when I knew Pops, he was thin. He always wore brown clothes that seemed to have found him by mistake. He looked like a representation and not a true form. We worried. I prayed.

Pops traveled that road to Baltimore for the last time when Alex was a month old. We sent him pictures of her. He died before he met her, when she was four months old.

When she was about 15 months old and I was pregnant with the Mack Attack, LSF had to work an ice storm. We are used to his working ice/snow/hurricanes/heat, but this one worried me. It was the first time I’d ever NOT been able to drive in the ice, and he was out there driving a live truck. Alex and I stayed home, alternately watching the snow and icy rain out the window. I was tired and big and not in any mood to be stuck inside and afraid and I was still slightly unsure about being alone with the offspring. My back hurt. My feet hurt. All I wanted was a break and for LSF to come home.

But then Alex started laughing at … nothing. Giggling, she rolled around on the floor, gazed at something that I couldn’t see, and she’d double up in laughter again, as though somebody had tickled her.

Then she sat up and started babbling to … nothing.

Something caught the corner of my eye. It was tall, lanky and brown. It stayed in my periphery but Alex seemed to focus directly on it.

It moved. She squealed and ran down the hall, came back and laughed and ran toward the shadow, which remained in my periphery. I turned my head, but the shadow moved to the left. Alex ran toward it. I turned again, trying to get a good look, but it jumped to the other side of my vision. Alex ran the other way, following it.

I shrank into the corner of the couch, and the shadow settled into the corner of the room, perched against the doorjamb or against the wall, leaning as though it had no strength to truly stand. Alex plopped down into her Elmo chair, staring outside at the snow and ice. She occasionally nodded and laughed. She eventually wandered to her room and gathered some books and her Pink Bear, came back and made a huge deal about introducing Pink Bear to the shadow in the corner. She talked and listened.

Baffled and nervous, I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. The shadow followed me. When I came back, the shadow moved back to lean in the corner.

“You’re welcome to sit down,” I said. It came closer to the edge of the couch while Alex toddled over to grab for my piping-hot tea. “NO!” I said it more harshly than necessary. She got angry and went for it again, and I thumped her little fingers. She melted into tears.

The shadow disappeared. Alex kept crying; I felt like a jerk. I gathered her into a hug, apologized for thumping her, and explained that the tea was hot and she could’ve been burned. She calmed after a while, but the shadow didn’t come back.

Finally – and I felt stupid doing this – but finally I called out: “I’m sorry I thumped her. I won’t do it again.”

The shadow reappeared. Alex climbed off my lap and went back to laughing, reading, talking and watching the snow.

Shadow person stayed all afternoon. I let it know when I had to do a diaper change, and it very nicely gave Alex some privacy. It leaned against the kitchen door while I made dinner. It stayed by the window most of the time, I guess watching Alex watch the snow.

Toward seven, Alex looked at the front door, raised her hand and waved. “Bye bye!” she said. The shadow left my vision. The apartment felt empty.

A minute later, LSF called. “I’m almost home,” he said. “Y’all OK?”

I know the shadow person was Pops. I think he was sad that he was going to miss out on Alex and the coming baby, that he felt he owed it to LSF to look after us for a while, that he wanted to both give and receive some familial comfort.

I’m sorry this story has to be a ghost story. It makes me wonder, however, how many other souls are out there, trying to right wrongs, trying to make amends, and trying to do what’s necessary before truly moving on.

The Elks Lodge, Big Mama’s house, and your play cousin’s living room

Somebody well-meaning and apparently rich keeps Facebooking me to take yoga retreats. A retreat is fine. But I can no more afford a retreat to Cancun, Punta Cana, Puerto Rico or any place that requires a plane trip over ocean water than I can justify a year’s membership to the Crazy Horse down in Myrtle. Nor can I justify it to the spouse. “See, I gotta leave town – no, baby, I gotta leave the COUNTRY – to find my true potential in crow. Like you need to leave the house on Thursdays to find your true vodka tonic.” That argument might actually work. Hmm. Hold on.

Nope, didn’t work. So we po’ recession-burned yoga students must find our light somewhere closer to home. My top three choices:

The Elks Lodge: Any Elks Lodge in any town is guaranteed to be 1)small and 2)rentable 3)hot. Seriously, you cannot walk into an Elks Lodge and not start sweating; it is impossible. So if you’re doing a hot yoga retreat, you can leave the heaters at home. The fact that the Elks’ dances typically pack 850 people into a space the size of a college dorm room doesn’t mean yoga students have to cram their mats in. The dance floor, usually a gleaming grain of southern pine heartwood, is perfect for 20 people doing any version of warrior.

Big Mama’s house: Big Mama lives down by the elementary school you used to go to. You walked past her house every day with your snot-nosed cohorts and she yelled at you from the door. “I know you ain’t walking past my house and not gonna stop and speak.” Big Mama prayed for you constantly because she knew you were hoodlum potential and needed help. She kept plastric (yes, plastric) covers on her furniture but she would let you do anything you wanted as long as you respected her space, so if you and your hoodlum-potential crew wanted to build a 10-foot-tall dirt mountain in her yard and carve roads into the side and pour water and sawdust into the mound just to see what would happen, she didn’t care – as long as you didn’t mess up her furniture and y’all weren’t in the streets with the true hoodlums and riffraff. If you and your friends wanted to bake a cake for somebody’s Daddy’s birthday, she’d help you because said Daddy is a good man, lord knows, and he works four jobs and that man needs a day off, a cake and a prayer. So now that you’re grown and hopefully have escaped the fate of being a hoodlum forever, if you say you want to bring 20 non-hoodlum friends over for a retreat, she’s fine with it.

Your play cousin’s house. Your play cousin is usually somebody kin to a person your Mama went to school with and comes over when your Mama and her friends get together. The play cousin is better than a real cousin because the family secrets/issues don’t get in the way of the friendship and the play cousin is too afraid of your Mama to cause trouble when she visits (unlike real cousins). During childhood, the play cousin is at your house either during the week or on the weekends, and you’re at her house during the other times. Your Mama just went on and fed her and bought her clothes because she was always around. She helped you pack for college, came to your homecoming games, set you up with the cute guy when you visited her at her college, helped you stash your liquor, forged your Mama’s name on report cards. She drove the rental car backwards all the way from Columbia to Myrtle Beach because it helped you save on mileage. She will not hold your hair when you are vomiting back up 12 vodka tonics, but she will give you two Tylenols the next morning while telling you how dumb you looked while trying to walk in the five-inch heels you wore to the club. She will take the couch and let you sleep in her bed when you are grown, married, pregnant and mad at your man. She will help you hide the bat you used to smash said man’s crazy ex-girlfriend’s windshield. She will drive the kids to school while you are serving your jail time. So no, she is not perfect, but she is there for you, girl. Whatchu need? Plow in the living room? She’ll hold the baby for you.

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