Thursday, November 30, 2006

Santa and Bruno

Every family has its holiday traditions, and ours is no exception. We are Italian, so therefore our big night is Christmas Eve. We serve several courses of various kinds of fish: fried calamari and shrimp cocktail for appetizers; mussels marinara and baccala balls as a first course; and a delicious red clam sauce with aldente linguini for a main course that only my aunt and my cousin can create in their special way every year. There is red wine aplenty, and after dinner we serve whole nuts with a nutcracker and fruit to pick on such as tangerines, pears and grapes. Dessert consists of the usual Italian fare of cannolis, Sfogliatelle , Napoleons and rum cakes, and of course, my famous varied-flavor-of-the-month-brownies made from scratch. Christmas music by Frank Sinatra is a given.

In between courses, we pause for a game of “Initials”…for example, we’ll write “Merry Christmas” down one side of a piece of paper, and right next to it, we’ll write it again, but going upwards (that would make the first two initials “MS”). We place an egg timer on the table and set it for 5 minutes, and begin to find celebrities, athletes and even cartoon characters that match the initials (for instance, “MS” could be Mark Spitz, the Olympic swimming champion who won seven gold medals in 1972). The person who has the most “for real” names when the timer goes off wins! What they win, we still don’t know.

Sometimes we’ll place a sticker on everyone’s backs when they arrive with the name of someone famous written on it. The point of that icebreaker game is to ask other people yes or no questions about who “you” are and figure out what person is stuck on your back (for example, one year my then-58-year-old, rap-hating brother “J” had “Eminem” stuck on his back…it took him all night to ask the right questions before he guessed who he was, and once he did, we all fell on the floor laughing at the expression on his face)!

In years past, we had a wonderful tradition of singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, assigning each of the twelve days to different people who would sing their part of the song on cue. My dear, departed Uncle Murray was always the “Five Golden Rings”, and he sang it in his best baritone to all of our enjoyment. Sadly, as our parents passed on, the tradition of this fun song seemed to pass on with them. However, the young people decided that it was time to build some traditions of their own, and one Christmas about 15 years ago, Santa and Bruno were born.

Santa and Bruno are sorry-looking Christmas creatures played by my two nephews, Chris and Chris (thankfully, they aren’t brothers!). Santa has a cotton ball beard taped onto his chin, each puff hanging single-file down to the end of his neck. His hat is a classic Claus cap, but his pants vary every year from disco pants to ripped jeans to green tights. Bruno, his red-dot-cheeked-sidekick, always wears an elf cap and elf ears, even if he has to create them himself out of various household items. They arrive sometime around 11pm and hand out personally crafted presents to everyone in attendance. However, these are not your usual handmade gifts. These are very, very special Santa and Bruno gifts.

The first year of Santa and Bruno, I got a piece of sidewalk chalk with a face drawn on it and a pushpin nose. This has become my signature gift every year since, although some years it varies by color or even theme (I believe one year the chalk was dressed in Barbie clothes, and another year the pushpin had a propeller on it). There have been gifts such as my husband’s “Health Food Starter Kit” which consisted of a dried-up baby carrot inside of a round film case. Or the time my cousin got a “Diet Utensil Set” that contained a spoon with three holes drilled into it and a fork with no prongs. My sister-in-law got a thong made out of duct tape once. But our favorite gifts seem to be the ones that they bestow onto my brother (of the afore-mentioned “Eminem” fame).

Knowing the borderline hypochondriac that he is, Santa and Bruno are always careful to create just the right item to pack in their sack for “J”. Three years ago, “J” got a fortune cookie that was configured out of some unidentifiable food. When he opened it up, his fortune read, “You have 20 minutes left to live.” Okay, so it wasn’t funny to my brother. But it had the rest of us rolling because we understand his death paranoia so well. One year he got a membership to the OJ Simpson Fan Club. One of the best gifts that “J” ever got was labeled “My First Pool Toy” and was made out of a wooden handle, two feet of rope and a 10 lb. round weight. After that, he wondered if someone was trying to tell him something.

The funny thing is, every year Chris and Chris seem to miss Santa and Bruno’s visit, and only show up after they’ve left. What’s even funnier is that the whole family goes along with it every single time; we all put on our sad faces and whine that if only they arrived 5 minutes earlier, they finally would’ve met Santa and Bruno!

Okay, I have a weird family, it’s true. However, our love of laughter keeps us going even through the worst of times…and trust me, we’ve seen our share. But I find that it’s traditions such as these that make for the wonderful memories that we have that bring out our Christmas spirit every year. Our Christmas Eve celebration has always been exceptional in days gone by, and will continue to be special in the years to come. With Santa and Bruno, how could it not be?

Happy Holidays!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Day Debacles

During my first marriage, Thanksgiving was always at my house every year. I preferred it this way because I could have both of our respective families over at the same time, and there was none of that “who’s-turn-is-it-weren’t-we-at-your-mom’s-last-year” nonsense going on. I certainly had enough room, and everyone was always willing to come. For the most part, our families got along, even if it was a contest between the two as to who was the loudest.

My Turkey Day feasts eventually went off without a hitch, but this was not so in the beginning. The first Thanksgiving that I ever hosted was in 1988. I invited both families over, and my brother-in-law S, who was still single at the time, decided to spend the night before at my house and help us out in the morning with the preparations. I had never cooked a turkey before, nor had I cooked much of anything prior to that day, but I figured that it couldn’t be very hard…all I had to do was put it in the oven with some butter, salt and pepper. Heck, I could handle that.

I got up that Thanksgiving morning about 6am in order to go to the turkey farm that was ½ hour away and pick up my fresh turkey. I got back some time after 7, and came back to find S and my husband, D, awake and hanging out. I took the turkey out of the packaging, and placed it on my table. Something didn’t look right; the turkey looked closed. Wasn’t it supposed to be hollow? I called D and S in to see what they thought. At the time, S was in medical equipment sales, and after viewing the solid turkey, he got a brainstorm to take a laser machine out of his trunk and try to laser open the poor bird.

I can not even begin to explain what the scent of raw turkey flesh smells like when it’s being burned open by a ray of red light. All of the wonderful holiday essences that should have been wafting through my house that morning turned into a smoky, dead-skin odor that even made the dog want to stay outside. I finally couldn’t take it any more, and decided to call up my cousin, T (who graciously taught me how to cook after my mom died, and who was coming over later that day for dinner), and ask her for her advice.

“I’ve never in my life heard of a “closed” turkey…are you sure it’s solid??” she queried.

“Yes, there’s just a tiny hole, but it’s solid inside of the hole!” I answered back in a panic.

“…Are you telling me that when you spread the legs open, that there’s no cavity there?”

“…Ummm…when I spread the legs open…??”

Embarrassingly enough, it was at this moment that I realized that the three of us had just spent the last half hour trying to burn a hole into the turkey where its head should’ve been! We also realized that we were supposed to untie the legs…and once we did, lo and behold, there was the cavity. We had a great laugh, and went on to have a really fun Thanksgiving, especially when that story went around the table!

My next turkey fiasco came nine years later. I was newly divorced, and it was the very first Thanksgiving that I was spending in my new home. Although my cousin T volunteered to have dinner at her house, I insisted that it was my holiday and my marital status was not going to stop me from cooking a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

The only problem was that my brain was not functioning at full capacity yet since the demise of the marriage. I purchased a frozen turkey for the first time and didn’t realize how long it would take to defrost. It was also the year that T insisted that I stuff the turkey, something I had never done before (I always cooked the stuffing on the side). That morning, the turkey seemed to be pliable, and I cooked my stuffing and shoved it inside of the bird at 11am. It was a large bird, and was supposed to take over 6 hours to cook. This meant that we could have feasibly begun eating at about 6pm…so I told everyone to come at 5. My sister-in-law, J, was in charge of the vegetable platter for an appetizer. I put out some chips and dip, and left it at that…none of us wanted to fill up on junk before the hefty dinner that we would eat.

Mostly everyone showed up at 5:30, technically a half-hour after the turkey was to be done. For some reason, however, it just wasn’t cooking. We decided to take out the stuffing and place it in a separate dish…but when we did, it was soggy and covered in bloody liquid—and worse yet, it was cold.

“Lisa…did you defrost the turkey all the way??” T asked.

“Uhh…yeah, I thought so…I mean, the inside was a little frozen, but I figured it would cook.”

“You can’t cook a frozen turkey, you turkey!! And you especially can’t stuff it!!”

Now it was closing in on 6:30, and the turkey was still nowhere near done. The vegetables had long been devoured, as well as the chips and dip, and now everyone was famished. We held on for another hour, served some more drinks and then checked the turkey again. To our disbelief, there was still pink juice flowing out of it, so we placed it back into the oven again. To make a long story short, we finally took that bird out of the oven about 8:15pm! We put my cousin’s husband, R, in charge of the slicing. All of the women were running around the dining room trying to place the rest of the food on the table, refill wine, etc…when all of a sudden, we hear, “T?? Ummm…Can you come into the kitchen for a minute?? I don’t know what this is.” My cousin left to go see what the matter was, and we began to hear loud laughter coming from the kitchen. We ran in to see R holding up the package of giblets that he had just pulled out of the cooked turkey! It seems that in my haste, or rather, in my state of first-time singleness, I had completely forgotten to take out the giblets packed in paper. J started to laugh so hard that she actually wet her pants. To this day, she retells this story to everyone she meets…and it is definitely one for our family history books!!

(My family has since outgrown this house as far as having any holidays here…and I actually HAVE to do the “Whose year is it?” routine now…but at least I don’t have to risk having any more kitchen flops. Then again, they do make for good storytelling!)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

25 Things I Realized Today

1. That teenagers are the most difficult people to deal with
2. That my superiors at work are not always the smartest people
3. That I will always be tired at 3pm no matter what I do
4. That I spend at least 75% of my life waiting for my kids, picking up my kids, driving around my kids and arguing with my kids
5. That steak in a stir fry can not overcook or it gets tough
6. That I appreciate my house, after watching my neighbor’s burn down today
7. That firemen are underrated
8. That I don’t care for teenagers
9. That yoga is really hard
10. That I like yoga anyway
11. That even after taking a yoga class, if I have PMS, my family can still push my buttons enough to make me start throwing pots and pans
12. That my ex-husband can make nasty comments to me and still hurt my feelings
13. That I have my ex-husband on the same list as teenagers
14. That my present husband, as perfect as he is, can still argue with me over something as mundane as tuna fish
15. That teenagers are really selfish
16. That one of my dogs smells really bad
17. That I have fear deep down inside that my dreams will never come true
18. That I like to type
19. That wine can really help PMS
20. That it’s really hard to lose weight
21. That the media has turned Christmas into the equivalent of having sex with a prostitute—trashy teasing leading to the big climax, and BOOM! It’s all over, and there’s not even any afterglow. And all your money’s gone.
22. That some parents raise kids that would damage or steal another kid’s cell phone
23. That someone can have no job and no kids, and still have to see if they can squeeze you into their schedule
24. That I can’t live without chocolate
25. That God blessed me with a beautiful life…but did I mention that I’m not crazy about teenagers?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tales from the Basement, Conclusion

Al sure was sneaky. He told me to invite our families over for my 39th birthday, when what he was really doing was arranging our engagement party…a surprise to not only me, but to everyone else as well! Just several hours after he placed that beautiful ring on my finger, we were announcing our engagement in my living room to a dozen or so stunned relatives. Everyone was thrilled, and to our happiness, so were our children. Life was just wonderful, and I wasn’t even aware that it was about to get better.

We decided to get married as quickly and as reasonably as possible, and began our search for a place to do so immediately. Although I had had the whole nine yards for my first wedding, Al was married at his parents' house by a justice of the peace, and they all went to a local restaurant afterward. This time he wanted a big shebang, complete with tuxedoes, gowns, a great reception hall and a DJ and dancing! After visiting a few unexciting halls and outrageously-priced caterers, we visited a local catering facility on the recommendation of Al’s mom. When we sat down to talk to the manager, he snapped his fingers and a waiter brought us a fine array of Italian fare from appetizers to desserts. All this, and he poured us a huge glass of wine each! He sat with us for quite some time, speaking to us as if he’d known us for years. The price fit our budget, and we signed on the dotted line for September 1, 2002.

In the interim, I felt strongly about having a spiritual ceremony and being married by someone religious, so I went to my Catholic parish and met with a deacon who performs marriages outside of the church (a deacon is sort of like a priest who’s able to get married and have a family). We clicked with him immediately, and he was going to be able to incorporate some of Al’s Jewish traditions (Al was raised in a Jewish/Catholic home). We had to do some research first, as Catholic rules state that on my original baptismal certificate, there had to be no mention of my first marriage. Since I was originally married by a rabbi with just a priest present to say a prayer, I was hoping that this wouldn’t be a problem…and when I went to the parish of my childhood, not only did the baptismal certificate make no mention of my previous union, but neither did the church’s official “marriage book”. We were in the clear!

Those eight months were the fastest of my life, and before I knew it, we were arriving at the church rectory for our final meeting with the deacon to tie up any loose ends concerning the ceremony and to confirm our Scripture quotes. I knew something was wrong the minute the deacon came down to greet us. His face was ashen, and he could barely lift the corners of his mouth to form a smile. When we got into the office, he sat us down and told us that somewhere, somehow…even though he didn’t mention it to my original parish…the priest who came to my first wedding went right to the Diocese (the big cheese of churches in our area to which whom all other churches report to) and recorded my first wedding there. The deacon sadly said that he even got into a fight with the secretaries at the Diocese because it stated in the record book that I married someone with a different first name than my ex-husband. But it was to no avail. He looked as if he was going to cry when he told us that he couldn’t marry us unless we got an annulment…something that was going to take a year to process and had a price tag of several thousand dollars. I did not share their belief that the only way I could be forgiven by God was to “buy” my forgiveness. That night, 3 days before my wedding, I walked out of the Catholic church forever.

It was the Friday before our Sunday wedding. Al and I were frantically searching through the yellow pages for someone who could marry us—who just happened to be available in 48 hours. We finally found a woman who was free at 12 noon on Sunday…she was half-preacher/half-justice of the peace. She convinced us that she could perform an interfaith wedding just fine, so we held our breath and jumped. She would just have to do.

Before we knew it, the big day arrived…pouring rain and all. I was so happy that morning; I wouldn’t have cared if there was a tornado! We tried to stick to tradition as best as we could, given our very untraditional circumstances, so Al, his son and my son slept at his parents’ house the night before and got ready there; the two girls and I stayed at my place. I had splurged on a hair stylist to come to the house and make us gawgeeous, and she did a wonderful job on all three of us. We were supposed to be picked up by my cousin and her family in their caravan at 11:00, but due to unforeseen, “too many people trying to use one bathroom” circumstances over at her house, they didn’t pick us up until 11:30. I was just a little panicked, as we still had to take pictures and the ceremony was supposed to start at 12, but I kept my composure. I knew they must’ve felt bad enough, and to tell the truth, I don’t think that there was anything that could have gotten me down that day, I was so elated. Our photographer, thankfully, was way more organized and had taken pictures of all of the groom’s family before we got there (it actually was amazing that the groom’s family was even there first, as they are usually running more on Pacific time)! We took some more pictures and then headed towards the ceremony room where we would meet the preacher/justice of the peace for the first time.

The first thing I noticed was her hair. It was blazing red, shoulder length and halfway between curly and frizzy (again, it had been pouring, so I chalked it up to the poor thing having a really bad hair day). Her makeup was garishly done as well; she was a cross between Lucy Ricardo and Mimi from the Drew Carey show. She was very serious, but also very animated; it was strange, because every time you thought she would at least crack a smile, she didn’t…like maybe she couldn’t, because of too many Botox injections, although she didn’t strike me as the Botox type. Miss NoSmile told us in a very bossy way what we were to do and when…and all I could think of was that I couldn’t think of anything and my mind was going blank…how was I going to remember all of her instructions? She said good-bye, and that she’d see us at the altar. The time had come. I just hoped I didn’t make a fool out of myself.

Our kids walked down the aisle to the beginning strains of “From This Moment” by Shania Twain. Shania had started singing by the time my brother walked me down the aisle, and the words from the song fit the moment beautifully. Al looked so handsome in his tuxedo; I locked into his gaze and strayed only for short moments that required me to light a candle or place a ring on his finger. Before we knew it, Miss NoSmile had married us and we were walking back up the aisle with people clapping and cheering!

I don’t think I ever smiled so wide in my whole life.

The reception afterward was so much fun that it completely flew by; five hours seemed like five minutes, and everyone had a wonderful time. The highlights of the wedding were my now-stepson making a tearful, heartfelt toast to us; and my then-12 year old daughter and her cousins singing beautiful three part harmony acapella to “Longer” by Dan Fogleberg. I remember looking around at one point and reminding myself to appreciate everything that was going on…to really acknowledge that my two cousins from California were here and having a fantastic, if not inebriated time…that my mom’s sister and her family were there, people whom I love dearly but never see because of the distance factor. I truly never felt so happy in my whole life. And I was about to get happier!

My now-in-laws set up an amazing “after-party” at their house, so my new husband, our kids and me loaded our bodies into our mini-van and left the catering facility to head over there, along with about 25 other people. I almost think the after-party was more fun than the reception! There was impromptu dancing, singing, lots of drinking and just a plain, old great time being had by all. My cousins from California were bonding over the bar with my husband’s brother. My predominantly anti-social brother was smiling most of the time and actually chatting it up with people that he most likely would never have talked to on any other day. My cousin T, who’s like a sister to me, was actually doing shots for the first time in about 10 years, which was a hoot to watch! At one point, my brother and my cousin S from California were talking for about an hour straight…really a rare sight, because my brother is the oldest cousin in the family, S is the youngest, they live 3,000 miles apart and hadn't seen each other since my first wedding! The party continued until the very wee hours of the morning, and everyone reluctantly said their good-byes and went their separate ways.

Al and I climbed into bed together as husband and wife for the very first time, and well, I don’t remember much after that. I do remember the next morning, however. Our kids came into the room and jumped on our bed, everyone laughing and just feeling indescribable joy. I also remember thinking how lucky I was to be blessed with this loving new husband, this amazing new family and to be living in this incredible new moment—I truly felt as if I had it all. And it’s been a wonderful, interesting journey ever since.

(Postscript: Al's "cave" downstairs in the basement is now being occupied by his son, who just turned 20. Although we miss our little "escapes" down there, nothing beats having your partner to keep you warm every night and to make you smile every morning when you wake up to their sweet face.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Tales from the Basement, Part 2

(Okay, I must be honest. I’ve been writing a post all week that I couldn’t get quite right until tonight, when I just deleted the whole thing. I finally realized that I did not want to relive a lot of what I went through during my courtship with Al—there are just some things that don’t need to be repeated and put out to the whole world, such as my former tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife. Although in retrospect, some of the stories are quite comical, there are some that are very heartbreaking. I have come such a long way with her and understand her so well now, that to repeat any of these stories almost feels like a betrayal. So we’ll just have to fast-forward a little into the relationship…)

When I met Al, he was renting a room from his friend, a divorced chiropractor who rented out 3 bedrooms in his large home to other single/divorced men. Al had been living there ever since his separation three years prior to our meeting, and was the only one renting at the time that we began dating. He had one room to himself and was in the process of fixing up another room for his kids, but his chiropractor friend made the decision to turn that section of the house into a large apartment for a family.

I was in the throes of single, working motherhood and messy-kid-syndrome: my kids had nowhere to have play dates save for their bedrooms. By the time the respective parent came by to pick up their child, the bedroom would look like an explosion at the Toys R Us warehouse. I would then muster a phony, “Oh, that’s okay, don’t worry, we’ll clean it up after you leave!” when the parent expressed concern about their child helping to clean up. Most days, I found it overwhelming to deal with my own kids, so I was usually willing to compromise and clean everything myself if it meant getting all the extra kids floating around the house to go home in a timely fashion so I could have some peace and quiet.

My unfinished basement was being rented out pro-bono to a family of unwelcome tenants—I believe their name was “Rodent”—and I had a brainstorm that it would be a great idea to build a playroom, laundry room and studio apartment down there and kick these freeloaders out once and for all. Al and I were dating over a year at this point, and after some lengthy discussions, we decided that he could move into the studio apartment and pay me rent, which would basically cover any raise in my mortgage from refinancing the house to pay for the work.

The construction was done beautifully by my cousin’s husband, and Al moved into his “cave”—one bedroom with a small living area, and a tiny bathroom with a stall shower. Although there was a separate entrance—just in case things didn’t work out with Al, and I had to rent to someone else—he used the front door to come and go, and I eventually caught on that the neighbors thought that he had moved in. But not into my basement. Into my bed.

Anytime that I would mention that Al lived in a studio apartment in my basement, I was met with expressions of disbelief. “OH, come on!! You know he doesn’t live down there.” Or, “Yeah, right…and he puts up with that nonsense, going down to the basement every night without complaining.” And my all-time favorite: “Lisa, I’m sorry…but that’s…weird.”

Weird?!? We weren’t married. Neither of our divorces was final yet, even after all that time. We had kids… impressionable kids, for crying out loud! The very last thing that I wanted was for my daughter to witness her mom sleeping with a man in her bed every night that she wasn’t married to…and then, God forbid, having it not work out. So why was that…weird?

We continued our “weird” living arrangements for several years. My divorce became final; he was having difficulty coming to agreeable terms with his ex, even after 7 years. Once his divorce became official, I made the request that we become “legitimate”. Yes, I enjoyed our little “rendezvous” in his cave once I put the kids to bed—no one could hear us down there, that’s for sure—and I know he liked to have his own place to “escape” now and then. But it was becoming increasingly important to me to build a relationship based on the real commitment of marriage; not only to set an example to our children, but for our own emotional investment into our futures. I wanted someone to share my life with as a full-fledged, committed partner; it didn’t work out the first time, but I believed that Al and I had what it took to be there for each other through anything.

One wintry Saturday afternoon right before my 39th birthday, I was outside in the dog run picking up dog poop with a plastic bag on my hand, as my pooper-scooper had broken and had yet to be replaced. Al came to the back door and told me that he absolutely needed me to come inside right that minute, as he wanted to show me something. I came inside with bag still on hand, a little annoyed that he interrupted my wonderful hour of crap-slapping. He chided me to come into the living room, and I relented, still with the bag on my hand, so as not to lose any time in my race to get back out into the field of land mines. To my complete and total surprise, all of a sudden he dropped to his knees and popped out a small, square box. I sat there in disbelief, subconsciously thanking the heavens above that I was right-handed. He looked at me with the most loving, sincere face and…well…you know the rest. I of course started to cry, and we hugged for what seemed like an hour. There I stood; no makeup, a winter hat on my head, a bag for a pooper-scooper on my right hand, and the most beautiful solitaire diamond on my left. I never felt more loved in my whole life.

(Next installment…our wedding day. Absolutely the most wonderful day of my life.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tales from the Basement, Part 1

(As many of you may know, I was remarried several years ago to a man with two children. I thought it might be time to share the story of our, well, “different” courtship!)

I tucked my kids into bed, kissed them goodnight and stood there for a moment, staring at the adorable yet anomalous sight of my two little ones sharing the same queen-size bed. Not my bed, mind you…but the bed of my estranged husband which resided in his brand-new, single-guy apartment. The large house we had once owned together was now occupied by a new, hopeful family; my children and I were going to be homeless for a couple of weeks until we were able to move into our tiny new abode. D, my almost-ex, was kind enough to stay with his girlfriend for awhile and loan us this one-bedroom bachelor pad. I walked out of the bedroom and took a good look at my surroundings, searching fruitlessly for a morsel of our life together. Nothing here but masculine towels and dinnerware, drawers full of bland, stainless-steel cutlery and such novel items as “gas passes” and ticket stubs for concerts we had never gone to.

I wondered how this could be happening. The past year had been such a blur, and now that I had time to just sit and think, I couldn’t believe how surreal my life had become. This was it. If I previously wasn’t sure that our life together was completely over, I sat within the confines of proof so solid, it hit me in the head like Babe Ruth’s baseball bat. I suspected it before, but now the truth was staring me down between the eyes: It was time to move on.

I called my friend C and told her that I was finally ready to meet her friend Al, after she had tried unsuccessfully for the last five months to get us together. Al. What kind of name was that, anyway? Albert, Alfred, Alan? I imagined him saying, “You can call me Al”. I had visions of a combination of Chevy Chase and Paul Simon running through my head, no matter what kind of “killer smile” C said that he had. I gave her the phone number to D’s apartment, and figured I’d just try to get through my days of traipsing my kids back and forth to day camp and trying to concentrate on my job.

I had been through my share of rotten blind dates, perhaps set up by unsatisfied wives who had fantasies about men that they themselves would never get to sleep with. One of D’s cousins had previously set me up with her “tree guy”; a tall, fair-haired handsome man that had a personality to match his profession—he was nothing more than an empty stump with no personality. When he asked me how long I would have to date somebody before I slept with them—“…six days, six weeks, six months?”—I promptly excused myself and said that I was late to pick up my kids from the babysitter. My next blind date, another friend's "deck guy", had a much better personality but insisted that we meet at a nightclub, which should’ve been my first red flag. He brought his “best” female friend with him to our blind date, which should’ve been red flag number two. When he told me that there was always surgery to correct the fact that my breasts were not the size of Pam Anderson’s, the third red flag was shoved down my throat so far that it rendered me speechless. I meekly squeaked out that I had to use the ladies room, and snuck out of the club. I raced back to the angelic, sleeping faces of my beautiful children, excused the babysitter and cried my eyes out. Is this what dating in my 30’s was going to be like?

Al called within a few days after C gave him the phone number. His voice was deep and smooth; his tone was kind and gentle. He had an explosive laugh that was childlike and almost innocent; I knew in my heart that this man was never going to ask me ridiculous questions that had no answers, nor expect anything from me that wasn’t natural and real. We agreed to meet the next night at a small pub in my new town. He told me that he’d be wearing a black tee shirt with blue jeans, and that he had a white van. C had told me that he was about 5’ 10”—a little tall for me, since I don’t like to crick my neck to kiss someone—and she said that he was really cute, reminding me of that “killer smile” once more (she couldn’t help herself, being a dental hygienist).

I was so nervous that I failed to notice any white vans in the parking lot. I checked my make up in the rear view mirror, and slowly took a deep breath while stepping out of my car. In front of the bar stood a man in a black tee shirt and blue jeans; however, this man was clearly about 6’ 2”. I stared at him for a minute from a distance as he spoke in a very animated way to another gentleman outside of the pub. He didn’t look anything like what C had described, and his active expressions had me confused. This man just didn’t seem like the calm, relaxed man that I had spoken to. I took another deep breath and told myself that I needed to give him a chance, that someone who seemed that nice on the phone had to be at least half as decent in person.

All of a sudden, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw someone coming towards me. He gently spoke my name, and I turned around to see an amazingly handsome man slowly walking toward me from a white van. His eyes lit up as he flashed his pearly whites, and my heart stopped. As corny as it sounds, I felt like a princess watching her prince step off of his white steed. I stopped gawking long enough to remember that we hadn’t gone in the pub yet…there was still time for this guy to ask me a dumb question or make a rude comment. There was still a chance that he could turn out to be a total idiot once he was face to face with me. I smiled at him, said hello, and we walked into the pub.

We sat down at the bar and looked at each other. He smiled at me again and asked me if I wanted to see a picture of his kids. A picture of his kids?!? Can he be that wonderful?

I thought to myself…here’s a man who knows who he is, and what he’s about…and he’s not ashamed by it. He’s not trying to cover it up or hide it until he has no choice but to expose it. He’s a dad, he loves his kids, and they’re the biggest part of his life. And he wanted to share that with me first and foremost.

We exchanged pictures back and forth, laughing and sharing stories of children’s antics that a tree stump just couldn’t appreciate. After a wonderful evening, he walked me out to my car and kissed me on my cheek. I noticed when he hugged me good-bye that he was no more than 5’ 8”, and our bodies were a perfect fit. I went back to D’s apartment where my niece was babysitting. She asked me how my date went, and I told her the truth: that I had just met the man of my dreams.

(Stay tuned next week for part two of “Tales from the Basement”, which will give a glimpse into the very crazy world of two parents dating!)