Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This Week on Facebook: Marketing, Racism, Politics, Depression & Sharks

It has been an interesting week on Facebook.

American journalist James Foley was brutally beheaded in a live video by the terrorist organization Isis. While watching the news report on Facebook I found it bizarre and surreal when I had to wait while a diaper commercial commenced. Even in the midst of a horrific and mind defying execution we still need to get in a marketing plug. Seriously?

“That guy” (who represents an entire segment of the US population) is still at it. When Trayvon Martin was murdered he seemingly made it a personal mission to share every non-mainstream report available that painted Trayvon as a criminal monster who deserved to be shot. There were also numerous opinion pieces posted defending poor George Zimmerman and arguing for more guns. Now he’s got another target: Michael Brown. In the span of six days there have been darn near twenty articles linked that outline why Brown was a thug, why the police officer was justified in shooting Michael six times, and why black people are, in effect, animals. If THIS is a prevailing attitude among some Americans then we are truly screwed.

Here’s the thing. When you find yourself sharing article after article that belittles, berates,and impunes the character of unarmed teenagers whom you've never met and who are now DEAD, then maybe it's time to walk away from the keyboard for a breather. Or, at minimum, see a therapist. Honestly, ten articles is probably enough to get your point across.

I will never use the word “very” while writing again. At least if I can help it. This must be one of the things they teach you in creative writing grad school. I need to (proverbial)**** or get off the pot and enroll.

Everyone’s kids are adorable on their first day of school. If you don’t think so then you are grumpy. Also, single friends, keep posting your pets on the first day of school. They are just as adorable (my dog and cat are sometimes WAAAAY cuter than my children).

They Royals are winning, the Jayhawks are pre-season number 3, and it’s time to remember if you attend a Chiefs game do not, I repeat, do not leave your group to take a nap in the parking lot. Unless you want to end up on someone’s Face Book wall while people debate whether or not you deserved to die.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is marketing genius. People love to give to a good cause when they are prodded. People love to laugh at each other and themselves. People love to include their friends…in just about anything. And for those of you who think it’s stupid, self serving, or that it’s pointless? Simple: don’t do it. Donate money silently (I assume by your complaining that you already regularly donate to worthy causes). The ALS Foundation and the families fighting this nasty disease offer their profound gratitude and ask that you keep dumping ice water on your heads, challenging others to do the same, and donating.

Robin Williams did amazing things during his life. His films not only entertained the masses but they touched us, pushed us to explore places we otherwise would’ve avoided. The Captain is still moving us, even through his death, to understand and explore depression. His succumbing to a condition affecting millions of Americans has also allowed Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to show the world, once again, why they are assholes.

Many of you think Johnny Manziel is an asshole. I’ve never met the guy but maybe, just maybe, someone should break his middle finger? On the other hand, Guardians of the Galaxy has given my two children endless giggles when it comes to this particular digit.

Kansas gubernatorial challenger Paul Davis has Governor Sam Brownback on his heels. That should tell you something. In KANSAS, home of the Koch Brothers, the most conservative governor in the country is in trouble. Kansans aren’t blind Sam. The only silver lining to be found in your systematic decimation of our state budget, disability rights and education funding is that you poked the voters hard enough to wake them. And for that, we thank you.

Katy Perry was in town this week, selfies are still the rage, summer vacations have ended, football is beginning and campaign signs are lingering.

Speaking of campaign signs, Ken Selzer please, for the love of God, pick up your signs. The primary ended fifteen days ago.

And speaking of voting….the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18 1920, giving women across the country the right to vote. Many of my female friends and African American friends posted this on Monday. I don’t find it odd at all that two groups who had to fight tooth and nail for the right to vote would still honor that fight almost 100 years later.

I’ll end with one final tid-bit gleaned from Facebook this week. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is complete and utter bullshit. Yes, I called it that. What else do you call “documentaries” that include scientists and cell phone footage made up of actors? When creators have to manufacture fake newspaper articles in order to drum up viewers I draw the line. It’s one thing for cable news to make up stories; I want 35 foot shark documentaries to be true.

I mentioned silver linings earlier but here’s another one. Sharknado 3 is due out in theaters next year.

I’m betting there won’t be a Pampers commercial before THOSE trailers.

Friday, August 8, 2014

World's Tallest Water Slide

It’s official: I am insane!!

“r u Insane?” is the mantra of Schlitterbahn’s water slide, the Verruckt. The funny part? I’ve been saying “Are you freaking insane?” whenever I’ve seen footage of the slide, not realizing this was the actual mantra and not realizing I was going to ride it.

Seriously, it’s Barbara Kempf’s fault. She has no fear, none. The day she invited me and the kids to join her at the park (her daughter Gabrielle works at Schlitterbahn and we were grateful recipients of guest pass fees) I knew I was in trouble when I said “are you doing the water slide?”

Barb, in her typical no-nonsense way, responded “of course.”

There was no way in hell I could go now and not do it.

All week long I found myself mumbling “damnit Barb”. Verruckt was there, hanging out in the back of my mind, and the words “r u insane?” creeping in.

When footage was first released in the local media about this slide I promised myself I would never ride it. Nope, no one can make me.

On Thursday, I found myself in the first line at Schlitterbahn, waiting for them to open. A cute young woman, sporting a blue Schlitterbahn shirt, gathered us around and began the lecture. When the doors opened, we were directed to follow her all the way to the back of the park if we wanted to ride the slide. She was VERY firm, stating “if you move ahead of me, push forward, or pass me on the way to the back your ticket will be revoked, your arm band removed, and you will be kicked out of the park for the remainder of the day with no refund!!”

Clearly people have been serious about this ride. Sheesh.

When we reached the ride there were two additional lines. I hate lines.

Let’s just get one thing out in the open: this is the most inefficient process I’ve ever seen.

Moving on…

The first line took thirty minutes. At the end, our threesome (Verruckt requires three riders at a time) of Marah, me and Barb found ourselves on a large scale to see if our combined weight would allow us to ride together. Whew, green light.

We then had to get into a second line. Twenty minutes later we were on the schedule for 4:00 pm.

At 3:50 sharp we hopped into line with four other sets of three. The same girl who weighed us in the morning was still there (aren’t there child labor laws in Kansas?) and she weighed us again; still a green light.

She then proceeded to read through what seemed like ten pages of instructions re: our own liability so quickly that it sounded like an auctioneer. We all nodded dumbly in agreement when she said “just nod”. It is highly possible she said something like “over half of all rides have resulted in the death, dismemberment, or decapitation of participants; do you still release Schlitterbahn from any and all liability?” and we still nodded “yes”. Because we couldn’t understand a damn thing she said.

The hardest part of the ride then ensued. We hiked 168’7” up, which included 264 steps. If you have any type of physical disability, pulmonary issues, or are simply waaaaay out of shape then you might want to avoid this ride. Here’s another thing to consider: the heavier your threesome weighs the faster you will fly down the slide (and the longer it will take to make that walk to the top). We were a feather-weight crew compared to some of the groups I saw.

Honestly, it wasn’t that bad and there were plenty of landings to stop and rest along the way. The steps have nets around them and nets over the top so I felt pretty safe as long as I didn’t look down. Barb, however, took great pleasure in stopping to point out local Kansas City sites as we rose. I don’t hate heights but I don’t immerse myself in them either. She’s a sadist and, at one point, told me to cover my ears because she wanted to share something with Marah that she thought might frighten me. I still haven’t asked what it was.

Management had included emergency buttons for those experiencing nausea/dizziness/cardiac arrest and there were signs letting us know we had passed the height of The Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls….it honestly doesn’t look that high when you are standing below it!

We arrived at the top and I took comfort in the fact I couldn’t see over the edge. I pitied the young boy behind us, though. He looked about Brody’s age (9) and was, quite frankly, softly crying. His dad was leaneding down, encouraging him to go through with this insanity.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I would’ve handled it if it had been Brody (who was below absolutely seething because I thought he was too short to meet the guidelines; in all honesty, knowing my kid, he would’ve had no problem going over the edge). Part of me was ticked at the dad. The other part of me felt certain this kiddo insisted on riding and then panicked at the top. For the record, he DID go down the slide and at the end was downright giddy.

Our turn came and after saying a cheery hello to my best friend’s nephew (who looked at me like I was weird; okay, I’ll accept that because I AM a little weird) we climbed into the tube.

Marah and Barb were strapped in by staff but before they could get to me the tube began to move forward. Towards the edge, like it was going to take a dive.

I panicked, yelling “I’m not strapped in, someone strap me!!!” Folks in the line started laughing at me, pointing and saying “do you see her face?”

Assholes. Easy to laugh when you aren’t the one on top of Mount Everest getting ready to fly off the edge!

I continued begging “Seriously, strap me in!! Somebody strap me in NOW!!!”

My friend’s nephew was cracking up and his partner laughed, saying “we’ve been waiting to do that to someone all day!”**

With that, our tube moved forward, the bar lifted, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

The first thing you notice is how long it takes to tip straight down. Within the first blink of an eye I knew, could FEEL, that we were literally free falling STRAIGHT DOWN. The tube wasn’t touching the slide.

Then I felt the slide and peeked. Holy shit. I was looking straight down and it must’ve been at this moment we hit 65 miles per hour.

You can’t scream. I mean, literally, you physically can’t scream. The force propelling you straight towards the ground won’t allow you to scream. If you needed to vomit, you couldn’t. So in the midst of this insanity, there was complete and total silence. Except for the wind, of course.

I squeezed my eyes shut again. Yes, I’m a coward.

The drop took three seconds. Three amazing and adrenaline inspiring seconds.

Then we hit the bottom and in that moment our voices worked again. We shrieked, hollering, as upward momentum propelled us over the five story hill. Roller coaster enthusiasts will be able to relate to the “holy cripes I’m flying out of my seat” feeling that ensued when we hit the top of the hill.

As we careened down the last slope I couldn’t believe the screaming voice shouting “THAT WAS AWESOME!!!”

Then I realized it was my own. I couldn’t quit yelling, locking eyes with the staff member at the bottom and trying to make him understand “that was so awesome!! I want to do it again!”

He just smiled, shook his head, and waited for us to get out of the tube. Guess he’s heard it before.

Getting out wasn’t quite so easy. My legs were quivering. I started to stand and had to sit back down again. Taking a deep breath, I tried it again, this time managing to stay upright. I looked at Marah, asking if her legs were quivering.

When the daredevil teenager who often looks at you as if you are the biggest weirdo dork in the world sheepishly says “um, yeah” then you KNOW you’ve done something pretty cool.

My back was a little sore and those legs remained quivering for a short while. Even so, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was that awesome.

Make plans to visit Schlitterbahn.

I dare you.

** I hereby release from liability Schlitterbahn staff members who pranked me; being a family friend let them know I was prankable and no injury or PTSD has and/or will result from said pranking. Does this legally get them off the hook if Schlitterbahn officials read this blog? Here's hoping....

Monday, August 4, 2014

Yeah, It Sucks To Lose Someone You Love

It has been 40 days. And I’m doing okay, really, I am.

Each one of you has either experienced the death of someone very close to you or, let’s face it, you will. This was my second “biggie”, so to speak. I thought I was ready.

When my grandmother Mary Jean died four years ago I was surprised when Homecare Hospice started sending me things in the mail. How in the hell did they even get my address or name? Somehow, they learned that I was one of her children (okay, most of you know the story well but for those first time readers who don’t….my maternal grandparents raised me, from the age of five).

I’ll be honest. I threw away everything Hospice sent me. Honestly, I didn’t need a pamphlet to tell me I was grieving or to give me permission to cry, be angry, or shut down. Besides, I felt “okay” then just like I feel “okay” now.

Maybe that's a little untrue. Maybe losing my Grandmother tested me as I never expected; tore my heart in ways for which I wasn't prepared. I mean, come on. Most mothers love us like no other human on the planet can love us, right? My champion, biggest fan and rock was gone. Forever. Period.

“Okay” doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell. “Okay” doesn’t mean I don’t feel the loss of them in my life every. Single. Day. Or that I don’t sometimes find myself looking up, tears in my eyes, whispering “I can’t believe you are gone; I wasn’t ready!”

“Okay” doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes gasp when remembering I will never. Ever. See them again.

Just typing those words make it hard to breathe.

“Okay” does mean that I push through the pain and have a pretty solid mental understanding of the processes and of the inevitability of loss in all of our lives. Pragmatically, I also understand that I was blessed to have had both of my (grand)parents until they were almost 90 years old. If fate were to be so unkind as to take my spouse, children, or best friends some time soon I might not see things so pragmatically. In fact, I’m not sure I could ever write about it.

So why am I writing about my Grandparents? Today I received a third mailing from Homecare Hospice since Grandpa Delbert died 40 short days ago (but who’s counting?).

Instead of throwing the papers away I decided to read them. After all, I had a small breakdown today while driving. It was prompted by the Fairway KU Med office, which we we passed while driving down Shawnee Mission Parkway. My Grandfather’s much adored sleep specialist from KU, Dr. Stevens, has relocated there and his next appointment would have been at this office.

Sometimes I forget how quickly the pain punches you in the chest.

Marah looked away. She’s seen it a few times before. Once, about six months after Mary Jean died, we pulled into the garage and a song came on the radio. The punch felt the same as today’s punch: squeezing my lungs, burning my eyes, clenching my throat. She was nine, Brody’s age, and simply looked at me and said “you are missing Grandma, aren’t you?”. Out of the mouth of babes…

The literature from Homecare Hospice talked about grief, techniques to get through it and pathways to peace and wholeness. What it has done for me today is to reaffirm that what I’m doing is healthy, at least for me personally.

Here’s the deal. I’m a talker, big time. I’m not a talker about my deep feelings, however. I don’t need to be. I write about them. So I’m doing that today.

I’m a hoarder; a hoarder of family mementos. If it’s a photo of my Grandparents, it’s been preserved. If it was an item given to me by them, I’ve saved it. Not only have I saved it, but I get it out. I touch it, hold it, close my eyes and try to imagine the item's place in their past.

Several years ago my Grandfather bequeathed me something he had made when just seventeen years old. Two pieces of wood with a hole drilled in each and a chain linked through them. On one he had carved “Mary Jean” and on the other “Chinker”. They were companion “necklaces” before the days of Claires “BFF” matching heart necklaces. These pieces of wood are so much better. Grandpa’s school nickname was Chinker. He made these during the earliest days of their love affair. I find myself holding them frequently lately, closing my hands around them while letting the grief wash over me.

The Hospice literature says to let yourself grieve. I cry when I need to but I shut it down quickly. I don’t let it consume me. Okay, that’s not true. On a few occasions, when I’m alone and have a little bit of time, I’ll let it wash over and blanket me. I’ll sob, deep, wracking sobs. And it feels good, almost like a workout. When I’m done, I quietly tell them I miss them and I move forward. I think this is okay.

I have one of her cotton bathrobes, the knee length zip up kind she used to wear while making breakfast. I hold it to my face and try to breathe in her scent. There is no smell anymore…after four years, it is gone. But my grandfather’s Dickie jump suit still smells like him and I covet it now. Mary Jean taught me that the smell will leave; I want to bottle his smell because when it goes I’ll have to experience a small amount of loss again.

It’s okay to keep these possessions, really, it is. If you are reading this, sniffling because you’ve done the same thing, KNOW THAT IT IS OKAY.

Hospice mentioned that grief can strengthen relationships when others reach out. I was blown away at the level of support provided by friends, old and new. Argue all you want about small town versus big town. I’m here to tell you both are filled with amazing people. I’m blessed to have experienced old friends who reached out, after decades, to hold me. I am also blessed to have met some of the most amazing people in my “post” small town life. Friends who made a two hour drive and showed up, unexpected, to extend their shoulders and hearts on my behalf.

Of all the things we need to get through grief, this is the most important: people who love you and who will be there for you without being asked. I’d like to name each of you, but you know who you are and, most importantly, you have my deep and abiding gratitude. You also have my promise. I will be there for you when you need me because I’ll know you need me. I’ve been on the needing end now and it humbles, teaches, wakes you.

The literature also says to create a new relationship with your deceased loved one, a non-physical one of the heart, mind and spirit. This means incorporating your loved ones values and passions into your own life and passing them on to others.

In order to do this, I’m taking a long look at my relationship with my husband and with my children. What better way to pass on their love than to start with the three most important people in my life?

Our generations are worlds apart. We are busier, less connected. When I look back on the lives of my grandparents, this is glaringly apparent.

Things weren’t perfect. My grandmother struggled with deep feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. She questioned her intelligence because she didn’t go to college. She was the quintessential housewife who never, ever, put herself first and who never experienced a “girls night out” in her life. But my Grandfather also made her the focal point of everything in his life. He didn’t engage in “boys night out” either, at least not in their middle aged years and later. Maybe they should have...who knows. What I do know, having been their child, is that my home was solid, dependable, and they were always there. Every night. Every weekend. Every time I needed them.

I don’t want to be June Cleaver, I truly don’t. But I do want to take time to reflect on how today’s values have maybe impacted how I treat my kids and husband. We are the generation of parents who have to ask two, three, four times “what did you say?” because we are reading a text and missed our child’s question. Mary Jean never had to ask me to repeat a question because she wasn’t listening.

They weren’t perfect, not at all. But the hospice literature has reminded me that they were pretty damn close.

The one thing I haven’t done yet to help conquer the grief is incorporate their values into my own life. Sure, some of those values were instilled and are a part of me without trying. If I am honest, however, I fall woefully short in other ways. I know which ways….I don’t have to write about them….I just have to work on them.

And if I do? Maybe the next 40 days will be easier.

So thanks Hospice. Keep spending the postage. Some of us can use the message.