The Dream I Never Knew I Had

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a star on Broadway. It wasn’t just a dream – it was a longing, an ache somewhere deep down in my soul. Before I was ten, I had memorized every song from Annie – The Musical and, as I got older, I committed to memory the lyrics from Hair, Fame, Cats and Phantom of the Opera. I took drama classes, joined a local children’s theater group and got as far as the Alliance Theater and the stage at the Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta. I loved it with a hot fiery intensity, and yet I let it go. I turned my attention to boys and BFFs, and merely dabbled my way through Show Choir in high school and Glee Club in college before letting it go completely. To this day, I still sing at the top of my lungs in the shower and in my car, and I never miss an episode of Glee or American Idol.  I have no regrets – I know now that it wasn’t the path I was meant to take.

When I was a young journalism student at the University of Georgia, I dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. I yearned to travel to distant shores and learn about the people who lived there. I wanted desperately to join the ranks of H.R. Knickerbocker, Edward R. Murrow, Morley Safer and Peter Arnett. I practiced my pronunciation of difficult leaders’ names and perfected a clipped speech pattern until I felt it was reminiscent of a blend between Walter Cronkite and Jane Pauley. I wrote make believe reports with a poetic flair, and performed them before my bathroom mirror with hairbrush in place of a microphone. Then two events occurred to crush my dream: 1) I registered for a Broadcast Journalism course and froze every time I stood before the camera, and 2) I watched CNN’s 24-hour reporting from the Persian Gulf War.  The mental image of Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett seeking refuge under a table in their hotel room during the first bombing of Baghdad terrified me rather than set a fire in my belly to hop the next plane and join them. In truth, the only time I had ever traveled beyond America’s borders was for a high school graduation cruise to Mexico – I hardly ever left the Southeast, let alone the state of Georgia. My sense of adventure was relegated to living inside my own head (which really turned out to be a perfect situation for an unbeknown aspiring writer).  I have no regrets – that wasn’t the path I was meant to take, either.

Instead, in college, I found my feet firmly planted on another path.  I met my best friend for life, who also happened to be my future husband. He taught me to stop looking to the future, but rather to live in the moment.  The future suddenly seemed wide open – something I no longer needed to define and could not confine to any one dream. We married shortly after graduation, and built our home in Georgia. Talk eventually turned to growing our family, and I felt the excitement building – just as it had when I dreamed of standing onstage or under fire in some war torn nation. It was strange – I had been a TERRIBLE babysitter growing up. I was never really comfortable with small children, never knew what to say to them or do with them. It didn’t come naturally to me – or so I thought. What kind of mother would I be? It took ten months to become pregnant, and with each failed attempt – I found myself wanting that elusive baby all the more. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those parents who wait years for a successful pregnancy. Once I learned I was pregnant, I felt the love growing inside me right along with that sweet baby. When she arrived, everything fell into place. My first daughter was joined by a second just two years and eight months later, and I became completely fulfilled. Being a mom was a dream I never knew I had. While I would never claim to be the World’s Best Mom – I yell too much, cuss too much and occasionally brush their hair more vigorously than required – I am a far better mom than I ever would have imagined. Thanks to them, rather than looking to tomorrow and dreaming of what COULD be, I am living for TODAY and wishing it could stay this way forever.  Rather than dreaming of a happily ever after – I get to live it every day.

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Spring Fever Has Got Me Sprung

What is it about the sweet sound of a bird chirping outside my window that gives me an unexpected lift?  Why do I feel the sudden urge to take off my shoes and run through the grass at the first sign of green poking up through the yellowed Bermuda?  For what possible reason do I feel the need – year after year – to completely gut and redesign the interior of my home from the moment I take down all the Christmas decorations?  What could explain the sudden onset of the seemingly incontestable desire to take perfectly good shoulder-length hair and chop it off?  Two words – Spring Fever.

Spring Fever is a restlessness that starts somewhere in your brain and travels to the tips of your toes. It happens every year – as surely as the change of seasons.  I long to don flip flops, Capri pants and a tank top, and take my girls to the park for the afternoon.  I want to paint the walls of my bedroom a refreshing shade of blue and buy all new furniture.  I can hardly wait to stick my feet in the sand and hear water lapping at the shoreline of a beach somewhere – anywhere.   I yearn to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, while a light breeze plays in my hair.  But that’s the problem – the first casualty to my Spring-fevered frenzy is my hair. 

I’ve already destroyed a perfectly acceptable bob – with every good intention of achieving a hip and edgy look – resulting instead in something that more resembles a she-mullet.  I’m a little nervous to venture ahead – what I envision in my mind may go horribly wrong in reality.  I’ve already purchased the sky blue paint for my bedroom walls, but after the disastrous results of my first Spring endeavor, I’m a tad nervous to commit to so much BLUE.  As for the beach and any hope of acquiring new furniture – in light of the current state of our economy – the new focus is to stash away as much cash as possible.  So, no new furniture and no feet in the sand – at least not this year.  To top it all off, the winter has been unkind – and I find myself in the worst shape of my life.  My dad’s mom died when I was very young, but I still remember viewing her through the car window, dressed in a sleeveless house dress waving bye-bye – arm flesh violently flapping as she did.  I recently inherited my own set of arm flaps – which fairly well does in my great love affair with the tank top.  For some strange reason, I feel like this year is oddly different.  Spring isn’t even here, and yet I’m completely sprung. 

Perhaps that’s the mark of a turning point – the moment when you realize it’s time to trade in the old ways and start anew – much like the transition from Winter to Spring.

I need to come at it from a different angle – through a new pair of shades, perhaps.  Hair grows quickly – but so do children.  My little girls are growing up so fast – right before my eyes.  Since I haven’t invented that freeze ray, yet and no amount of wishing will slow their growth – I need to soak up as much time with them as possible (especially while they still believe in fairy tales and think I’m the best mom ever).  I envision countless trips to the playground and pool – freckles popping on the cheeks of their sun-kissed faces, Popsicle juice running in streams down their arms.  This is their Spring, too – and I need to find new (and cost-effective) ways of making it special.  Picnics in the grass, kites carried on the breeze, weaving tales while rocking on our front porch – simple things that equate to memories as warm as the springtime sun.  These simple things are far more important than the recollection of Mommy crying over another bad hair style choice or home décor mishap.

And as another dreaded birthday approaches, I need to stop attributing the new muffin top and widening thighs to age, and start taking responsibility for what I put in my mouth and the amount of exercise I get every day.  Instead of riding that wave of Spring Fever-fueled energy to paint all the walls of my house and rearrange the furniture (again), I need to take my dog for a jog on the trails down by the Chattahoochee and teach the girls to play tennis.  I need to grab a hold of my Spring Fever and twist it slightly for more positive long-lasting results.  Rather than focusing on hairstyles and home décor, I need to focus on family and fitness.  With more than a month and a half to go – and with a large collection of tank tops waiting to be worn – there’s still plenty of time to turn my Spring Fever into Spring Fit.  With so many adventures to be had – right in our own backyard – there’s still plenty of time to turn my Spring Fever into Spring Fun.  Meanwhile, I need to enjoy these last precious days of winter – and never stop believing in the miracle of snow in the Deep South.  My faithful flip-flops will wait patiently on the floor of my closet until Spring has truly sprung.

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”             – Mark Twain

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

American Idol Saved My Life

Okay, okay – so American Idol hasn’t really ever saved my life in a conventional sense – yet!  But you have to admit, it’s a far more enticing title than the original “Why I Love American Idol”.  I have been a fan since Season One – when I voted for Kelly Clarkson, and wept along with her as she assumed her role as the first “American Idol”. I took partial ownership in her wild success – I ran out to buy her very first CD and have downloaded just about everything she’s done since then.  I love (and voted for) Carrie Underwood and David Cook, and I adore (and voted for) some of the one’s who didn’t make it all the way to the bitter end – like Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtery.  But, it’s about so much more than a singing contest and finding the next American Idol.  The reasons I love American Idol as a whole are almost too much to list, but I will try.

As a wife and mother of two, I love the fact that – on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings – my family gathers around our big screen TV to watch dreams take flight (or crash and burn before our very eyes).  I am reminded of the stories from my grandparents of mom, dad and the kids gathering around the radio for news and entertainment each night after supper.  It’s more than the two to four hours of family-friendly entertainment per week – it’s musical theatre, human drama and comedy blended with the lesson that we should ALL reach for our dreams (even if you get smacked down in the process)rolled into one. My girls get to witness the fact that sometimes life hands you a yellow ticket, and sometimes you learn that you’re striving for the wrong dream and it’s time to change directions.  They learn about the importance of grace under pressure and why it’s never in your best interest to be a sore loser.  They see the simple beauty of a tearful thank you and grace under pressure, as opposed to the ugly nature of the sense of entitlement.  They now know that not everybody gets what they want – no matter how badly they want it.  And – the most important lesson – they learn the importance of being yourself.   Never hide behind a gimmick or a costume – let the real YOU shine through.  That said, they also see that there really are crazy people running around out there in the world, wearing capes and feather boas.

I listened from my cozy bed the other morning, as my five-year-old daughter sang “Jingle Bells” in a clear and beautiful voice before her bathroom mirror.  Christmas has passed, but it’s one of her favorite songs – no matter the time of year.  Even though I couldn’t see her face, I knew that just behind her eyes was a vision of standing before the judges, their mouths agape as they knew instinctively that they’d just found the next American Idol.  I love that she has that dream, along with the fairy princess and fashion designer dreams.  Why on Earth would I ever take that away from her?  It does get me thinking, though.  All those poor saps who can’t hold a tune, and say “People tell me I’m a mixture of Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston” – did their moms build them up on false hopes?  OR did their moms hear clean and beautiful voices, too?  Does the saying “a face only a mother could love” hold true for voices, as well? 

For me, personally, I love the excitement surrounding each season – it’s escapism at its best.  It’s apart from the daily grind of deadlines and carpools.  I know I’m not alone in that feeling.  A friend who recently moved to a small town hundreds of miles away from home, wrote to me of her adjustment to the new surroundings  “…at least the boys are happy, and American Idol is back on.”  I love picking my favorite contestants, learning about where they’ve come from, watching the transformation from ordinary citizen to superstar and debating with my girlfriends about WHO should be the next American Idol.  I love that occasional performance that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and changes the entire direction of the contest.  After all these years of watching Idol, the judges seem like old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  I LOVE Simon Cowell and his no-nonsense approach.  He says the things we think, but are too afraid to say.  He can be cruel, but he can also be surprisingly sweet.  Who wouldn’t want to be built up by Randy Jackson (“Dude, that was the BOMB!”) or Paula Abdul (“First of all, you look AMAZING tonight!”)?  And I admit, I wish I could get the occasional hug from Ryan Seacrest when I’m having a bad day. But, still, it’s so more than that.   

I danced from age six to thirteen, and performed with a children’s theatre group in venues all over Atlanta. I knew every word to every song in the musical Annie. I’ve stood before judges during an audition and audiences during a performance.  I watched “Fame”, the movie AND the TV series, and dreamed of making it big on Broadway one day.    That dream, utterly unrealized, doesn’t shame me or weigh me down with regret.  It buoyed me all those years ago, and now – with my REAL dream playing out every day (wife, mom and writer) – it seems a fond, but distant memory.  I know American Idol does that for countless others the world over, including my little girls.  American Idol brings entertainment and hope into innumerable living rooms each week.  Hope, even the false kind, is something we desperately need during these days of economic instability, war and political infighting.  American Idol offers us all a break from the reality of our everyday lives – while we laugh, we cry, we sing along.  In a world of global warming, terrorist threats and unemployment on the rise – for a few hours each week, many of us get to celebrate the individual desire to achieve a dream.  In a way, for a few hours each week, American Idol saves ALL of our lives.

Published in: on January 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Believing

It began very simply as I imagine most instances of evolution do.  There was a little more weight around the middle.  The hair turned from shades of salt and pepper to white.  The eyes, which had once frightened away potential suitors during my adolescence, now twinkled.  My father, at 60, was becoming Santa Claus. 

 

It was my fault.  When my youngest daughter was just 9 months old, I’d scheduled a late visit with Santa at our local shopping mall for both she and her three year old sister.  I’d had to reschedule once already for one reason or another, when both girls caught a nasty case of the flu just days before Christmas.  Exhausted from a frightening and sleepless night, I called my Daddy in tears – my baby’s first Christmas would not include the traditional picture on Santa’s lap.  As Daddy’s often do, my Daddy set off to fix this.  It just so happened that he had seen a Deluxe Santa Suit for sale earlier that day, and he rushed back to the store to purchase it.  He donned the suit for the first time that evening, made a practice run to the kids in his neighborhood and then he showed up in all his glory on my front doorstep.  I was delighted – one of my fondest childhood Christmas memories was of a personal visit from Santa at my grandparent’s house.  There he stood – my father – he had black rubber galoshes on his feet and black gardening gloves on his hands.  Frankly, he looked more like a deranged gardener than Santa.  He wore a curly white false beard over his own close cropped one and his “Ho, Ho, Ho” was issued with the uncertainty of a novice.  But he was there with the best of intentions, and my girls ate it up.  He made over my youngest, inducting her to the wonderful world of Christmas enchantment – and she gazed upon him with great curiosity.  My eldest acted as though a rock star had crossed our threshold, squealing and clawing at his brand new red coat.  He listened to her Christmas wishes, delivered a sweet gift to each girl, and then walked off into the cold, dark night.  By January, the suit was packed away with all of the other Christmas decorations. 

 

The following year, a neighbor called my father.  His sons were two of the children my father had “practiced on” the year before.  He worked with a commercial realty company, and one of his shopping centers was putting together a holiday festival.  He asked my dad if he would mind “playing Santa” for the affair.  My father asked my sister and me to assist, and we joined him as Santa’s Elves – taking pictures and serving as crowd control.  My little sister and I both looked on as Dad tenderly held babies, maneuvered past questions of his true identity and listened intently to each and every wish.  Many of the children were very poor, not a one of them was afraid of this big man and every last one of them left grinning ear to ear.  It was an exhausting, but memorable experience that we were all proud to share in.  Once again, come January, the suit was packed away along with the Christmas tree, the ornaments and the other holiday knick-knacks.

 

I don’t know why I was surprised when my father announced the following summer that he wished to become Santa.  He and my mom had recently closed their own business of nearly 20 years and downsized to a small, but charming cluster home.  Surely, he was experiencing the dreaded, albeit late, mid-life crisis.  He attended a workshop, joined a company of “real bearded Santas”, bought a respectable pair of gloves and boots to go with his suit, and began to grow out his hair and beard.  My father – who had been a leader in women’s retail in the Southeast, whose face had once graced the pages of GQ magazine, who’d owned his own chain of women’s specialty retail stores – threw himself into the role of Santa Claus heart and soul.  Previously impeccably dressed and professionally coiffed, my dad now looked more like a roadie for the Grateful Dead than Santa Claus to me.  He started wearing red everyday and would practice his new craft in front of mirrors, holding them down so he could see himself from a child’s angle.  He is an imposing 6’4”, which I would think children find frighteningly enormous. 

 

Dad had faithfully attended every visit to Santa with my children from the time my first daughter was born, and now he had to regrettably decline out of professional courtesy for the other Santa on duty.  Suddenly, his calendar was filling up with Santa gigs regularly, which left little time to see his grandchildren during the holidays.  And when they did see him, he was absolutely exhausted.  What was worse is he told my little girls that he was Santa Claus, but that they couldn’t tell anyone.  I was in unchartered waters here, and didn’t know how I felt about perpetuating that whopper of a tale.  I was immediately childish and jealous, feeling that my children were being robbed of their grandfather who was being replaced by a myth, and during such an important time of the year!  That was never the case at all.  How many kids out there KNOW Santa Claus?  My girls now shared a special secret which strengthened their relationship with him.  They never questioned it – they just believed.  Whenever they saw him, they asked how the reindeer were doing.  Still, I couldn’t help but feel my father was losing it.  After so many years in a corporate environment, he just didn’t look like himself anymore.  He was a grown-up playing a glorified version of “dress-up”.  I had once bought my husband a t-shirt that read “The Four Stages of Life: you believe in Santa, you no longer believe in Santa, you play Santa, you look like Santa”.  This, like that, had to be a joke.  I appealed to my mother – surely she could see the changes.  She said, very simply, “This makes him happy, dear.”

 

Her answer opened my eyes and slowly, somewhat begrudgingly, I began to see the light.  Before my Dad’s transformation, I recall on more than one occasion my children pointing to a heavy-set, bearded stranger and saying “Santa!”  I might have glanced over and nodded “Yes… Santa.”  Suddenly, I was really seeing “them”.  What many grown-ups don’t realize is that there is an underworld of sorts of these pleasantly plump, white haired, bearded men running about amongst us.  Children spot them immediately, but we lose the ability to pick them out of a crowd once we grow up – unless they are standing before us, clad in a red suit with puffy white piping.  On one shopping trip, I saw a tall, bearded man surrounded by probably 10 kids – he was wearing overalls with a red shirt and he was very animated with the children.  He took his leave and waved goodbye to the kids, reminding them to be good.  I pushed my cart out at the same time he was pulling out of his parking space.  The license plate of his red pickup truck read “Rudolf”.   I remember feeling I may have just been in the presence of greatness – he could have been the “real one”.   On another occasion, we had rented the Santa Clause and Santa Clause 2 in preparation for the release of the third installment in theaters last year.  Tim Allen, who plays the role masterfully, faces his own set of challenges and skepticism to be “the Big Guy”.  I really paid attention this time, and found myself truly wishing to buy back into the magic and mysticism of Santa. 

 

Children were now pointing at MY dad and saying “Look, Mommy!  It’s Santa.”  I can see now that my father wasn’t going through some sort of insane turning point with his identity, he wasn’t doing this for the attention or for the money, he wasn’t taking a stab at becoming a performer – this was a calling.  He serves selflessly alongside hundreds of other men just like him who are craftsmen in the art of a magic that dates back to the 17th century, when America was first introduced to the Dutch version of Sinter Klaas by early settlers.  I have always felt a childlike excitement at the onset of the season – nothing compares to the wonder of Christmas.  Now, I feel a sense of pride mixed in with that excitement – my father is responsible for perpetuating the myth in the hearts of countless children who sit on his lap or touch his hand.  Because of him, I believe in Santa again.  Most of all, I will always believe in my Dad. 

 

By the way, the suit – along with several new ones – hangs in his closet now.

 

by Kasie Bolling

Published in: on December 21, 2008 at 4:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Cool

“Mom, you’re SUCH a GEEK!” 

 

I don’t know precisely when it happened, but at some point I’m afraid I ceased to be cool in the conventional sense.

 

I’m fairly confident I used to be cool.  As a matter of fact, at age 17, I was so cool I could drink half of my high school football team under the table.  I was so majorly cool when I was 18 that I was booted from a Whitesnake concert for “bad behavior”.  And – at 19 – I was so incredibly cool, my memories of Spring Break ’89 include only the constant replay of Guns-N-Roses “Welcome To The Jungle” filtering through a drunken haze and the burn I received from the muffler of a Harley I climbed on whilst wearing only a string bikini.  I said I was cool, I never said I was smart. 

 

I was not without my morals.  I had two major codes of honor by which I modeled my life at that time: 1). Never take drugs that have initials.  What a shocker it was the day I learned “acid” was also called “LSD”.  Whoops.  2). Never sleep with a friend’s boyfriend- unless, of course, he’s REALLY cute and professes his undying love for me. 

 

Upon closer inspection, the former “me” doesn’t really seem all that cool.  My high school yearbook reveals the truth.  That enormous hairdo, layer upon layer of lip gloss and neon blue eyeliner say it all.  We are all often slaves to the trends of our times, but the REALLY cool kids have never had to TRY to be cool.  They just ARE.

 

I suppose that means I must really be cool now – because I have utterly stopped trying.  That isn’t to say that I have thrown in the towel.  It’s just that I am finally comfortable in my own newly wrinkled and stretch-marked skin.  They are symbols of the battles I’ve faced that have shaped the woman I am today.

 

What’s really cool is when your 5-year-old daughter tells you that you look like a fairy princess when you don a dress and wear your hair down for a change.  What is cool is to be able to see all your blessings and know you are living a real-life “happily ever after”.  (One of those blessings is that I SURVIVED being so cool in my teens.)  And, even though my “eight-going-on-sixteen-year-old” sometimes calls me a geek, I know I’m the first person she’ll run to when she has a nightmare or a problem. 

 

Cool used to be about everyone else’s perception– now I know cool is all about perception of one’s self.  Man, is that cool or what?

 

by Kasie Bolling

Published in: on December 21, 2008 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment