Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nana and the Grudge

Nana and my Dad
My Nana - Clara Sanborn was born on April 5, 1895 and lived to be 105 years old.  She managed to live on her own until she was 103. She would do her own gardening, made her own meals and was happy to out go out with her grandchildren and great grandchildren whenever she could.  She was born and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts and was of a very sturdy New England stock. In fact, she often referred to herself as "a tough old bird."   She could be imposing and quite frankly a little scary.    She also had a very long memory and could hold a grudge for decades.  Needless to say, just like the Incredible Hulk, you didn't want to make my Nana angry. 

My Uncle Bud and Dick 
I was just about seven years old when I  first heard the tale of the "Damn Dick Cunningham."   It was a family legend of how a simple act of childhood selfishness could haunt you for the rest of your life.   Apparently, Dick  and my Uncle Bud were about six or seven in the late 1920's.   The Cunninghams were kin on my Nana's side - in fact Dick was the son of Nana's sister Helen.   He had just gotten some Necco Wafers from the 5 & Dime.  When my Uncle Bud asked for some - he wouldn't share them.   Now, these days most child psychologists would probably say that because he had just gotten them and needed to feel like he had ownership of them before sharing and that his reaction was completely normal.    But back then, parents would get involved in the petty little disagreements that their children got into, words were said and relationships were broken (okay, human nature being what it is - things haven't really changed that much in the last 70 to 80 years).   Nana got angry about Dick not sharing his candy and let her sister Helen know about it.    That was the beginning of the end of their relationship - which seems pretty silly and I've always wondered if that roll of confections was the fuse that blew the family apart.   She would refer to her nephew Dick as "that damn Dick Cunningham" for the rest of her life.  I mean the woman could not let it go.  She would regale anyone she could about it - even Max who she met in 1988 clearly 60 or more years since it had happened - but to her it was a fresh as the day it happened.  I often wondered why it was such a sore spot - why did something so meaningless mean so much?   It frankly was not until I started to write this blog that a few reasons started to come together.  

Nana and John Cody, Sr.  - 
As a kid growing up I was confused as to why my father's name was Cody and yet his mother's name was Sanborn.  When I was in my teens that I was told that Grandpa Sanborn was not my dad's father but step father but that he was more of a father than my real grandfather.   I've learned since then that my real grandfather was an alcoholic and that Nana and he divorced when my father was really young - maybe 7 or 8 and then never really had anything more to do with the family.   I think my dad saw his father a few times but not that much before he died.   It must have been incredibly tough back then to get a divorce in the late 1920's with two sons.   I mean most women stayed in bad marriages because that's what you did - you put up with it for the sake of the children.   Marriages weren't always about love - they were sometimes about arrangements.  Good families merging with other good families to keep a good family name.   So being a women who wanted out of a marriage with an alcoholic who was probably abusive for the sake of her children was virtually unheard of.   It also must have been difficult to prove that you could take care of your children on your own. I'm sure that there were other women: family, friends and neighbors struggling with the same issues but who put on a happy face squelching their own needs for love and affection and enduring terrible living arrangements behind closed doors.   Having the strength to say, "Those days of dealing with a falling down drunk, worrying that he'll hurt me or the kids in a drunken fit - well I'm putting an end to that," and then dealing with the fallout must have been scary.  Man, I never thought of Nana as ballsy - but my God, that took some intestinal fortitude that few women back then would be willing to take on.   The stigma alone could have left you ostracized from bridge clubs and social functions as other women might worry that you were out to steal their men or the men would be afraid that you would put crazy ideas of independence into their wives' heads.   Unlike widows, you choose to leave your husband which might have made  you immoral in many people's eyes. 

My Dad and Bud - mid 1920's
I'm sure that decision did not go down well with some of Nana's siblings and that might explain why she was estranged from her sister Helen  and a few other family members.  Back then, it was until death do us part and if you didn't suck it up and keep up appearances you could bring shame to your family.   I'm not saying that divorce in this day and age is easy but 80 years ago, it must have been excruciating but better than living in a torturous marriage.   So how does a woman in the 1920's start over with two young boys?   How do you even begin to date?   How do you deal with the smirks and the whispers in the background as you walk the street with your sons who no longer have a father in their lives.  For my father and his brother Bud, it must have been extremely confusing - to have your father in your life one day and then completely gone the next and still know that he's alive but just not coming around.  I would think that sense of rejection must have been huge.  With a modern divorce rate of 50% in our society - there are plenty of kids who you share your pain and confusion but the late 20's were not exactly a time to turn on the radio and hear Dr. Phil help families sort it all out - only 8 in 1,000 marriages ended in divorce.  There were no support systems.   It helps explain now why my Dad was so easily frustrated and would blow his top over relatively small things - having something like that happen at an early age has got to be traumatizing. 

 Frank, Nana and Bud

Frank Cody - WWII
A few years later, Nana met Willard Sanborn who was a kind and gentle soul - I'm guessing the opposite of her ex-husband John.  She stayed married to Willard until he passed on in 1981.   He was the yin to her yang - fun and full of quips while Nana could be stern and a little humorless.   From what I understand, he had a great relationship with his my dad and Bud but it was clear that Nana was the mother and she had the last word in how they were raised.    It's interesting that in this family portrait, it's just Nana, my Dad and Bud but not Grandpa Sanborn.   I have to wonder if his limits as a stepfather were set - he was the father figure without the father authority - that all went to Nana.    Her boys were everything to her - I guess they helped her heal after the divorce and gave her the strength to find someone to help raise her boys.   I remember her saying that when they both went off to serve in World War II, that she never slept at night because she was terrified that they would get killed.   My father served in the army in the 179th Signal Repair Company.  He was in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe.  My uncle Bud spent most of his time training soldiers on Miami Beach and never left the states, and yet she used to worry about Bud the most.   Both boys came back from the war unscathed, got married and had kids and made sure that their mother was always taken care of - no matter how difficult she might have been.  

Willard Sanborn, Nana, Dad, Mom, Grandma and Grandpa McCann
Making room for the women in her sons lives is something that she had a hard time with at first.    She was a very imposing mother-in-law from what my mother told me.   My father's real name is Frank but when he went to college, he wanted to be called Bill.   Anyone who met him at that point in his life knew him as Bill Cody, not Frank.   My mother, Jayne McCann, met him at Carnagie Tech where he went to college on the GI Bill.  She fell in love with a man named Bill.   When the time came for her parents and Dad's parents to meet, my grandmother McCann said to Nana, "We just love the idea of Bill joining our family," to which Nana responded - "His name is Frank and I'll thank you to call him that."   Oh, those stern New Englanders.    Even better, when you read the write-up of my parent's wedding in the Wheeling West Virginia New Register that  the bride's mother wore a "suit of costume silk shantung in beige and a burnt sugar coat" while the groom's mother was "attired in a gun metal gray dress with black accessories." Nana's ensemble sounds like an outfit better suited for a funeral then a wedding but then her baby boy at 32 was finally getting married.   Interestingly enough, despite his earlier childhood mishap, Dick Cunningham was a groomsman at my parent's wedding - they managed to stay close in spite of the infighting between their parents.  

Bud, Dick, and Dad with Rex the Dog
I guess the Necco Wafers might have symbolized something more than just a child's natural if selfish act.   Maybe it was Nana's need to make sure her kids were happy outside of the home in light of the instability they were coming back to.   Maybe her sister's marriage highlighted how, in her mind, that she might have failed in hers.   Now when I think about these things, my Nana does not seem all that imposing.   She was a young woman just trying to do what society expected and what she didn't expect was a drunk for a  husband.   She probably spent many a night crying because she wondered if she did something to cause all this because all the women around her were appearing to manage their marriages just fine.    How lonely it must have been not to share these feelings with anyone.   Maybe she tried to reach out with her sister Helen and was treated harshly.   From what I understand, when Helen died, Nana did not even go to the funeral.   It's sad when family disagreements can keep you from sharing things with your sisters and brothers and yet families get torn apart over all sorts of seemingly silly things as well as the big things.  Sometimes pride gets in the way and time erodes love that should be timeless.   But sometimes all you have to do is pick up the phone, say you're sorry and be surprised that you can pick up right where you left off before all the conflict happened - you just have to have the courage to do it.    Even after all those years when Bud and Dick had worked past "the incident," Nana could not let it go.    She had the courage to leave a bad marriage but not to offer forgiveness - I guess somethings are easier for some people than others. 

Nana with her 13th Great Grandchild Amber
Here's the crazy thing - I was born on the same date as my Nana - April 5th.    My name - Kelley was actually Nana's mother's maiden name and my middle name is Theresa the same as Nana's mother's first name - her mother was Teresa Kelley.   My mother came up with these names on her  own having no idea what they meant to Nana.    When I was a young girl, Nana didn't seem to smile much but then she'd probably been through more than I could understand.    When I became a mother she adored Amber and  used to say that "I could eat her without any salt!' which I figured was a compliment.   When she had to go into a nursing home at 103, I was amazed that she lived on her own for such a long time and even managed to make friends in her new surroundings.  When she died at 105, I was sorry that I didn't see her more in the last few years of her life - being in Georgia it was hard to get back down to Miami as often.   But I hope that if I got anything from Nana, it was her tenacity, her bravery and her longevity.   Hopefully like Nana,  I'll make to the century mark and become "a tough old bird."  Necco Wafers anyone?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pants on Fire

There are times when I wonder if I should have been a detective or attorney.   I have a good analytical mind and can piece things together pretty well.  I can also pick out inconsistencies in a story pretty quickly.   I guess being a writer and an improviser helps because you have to create stories out of thin air and make them plausible.  So when I see a movie or TV show and the plot points are sloppy – I get pissed.  For instance, if the premise of Once Upon a Time is that no one can enter or leave the town of Storybrooke if they are not part of the cursed world that the queen has banished them all too - then how are they getting food, clothing, gas and other amenities?   Do the truckers who haul that stuff to the city have a special immunity to go in and out?   That’s a pretty significant premise to not at least address in one of the shows (for the record I’m hooked on that show but that doesn’t mean that I give them a pass on details that don’t match up).   Making sure that you have your facts straight is key to being a good story teller – it helps to keep you honest.   When people decide not to be honest and to flat out lie, things start to unravel.  Those stories can turn into liabilities pretty quickly. 

There are several layers of lies that people tell for various reasons.   There are the little white lies that you might tell when someone asks something like: “Do you like my new hair color?”   Since the hair dye is cast  - what is the point of telling that person that it looks like a red fire ball exploded on their head.   A simple smile and a “That’s very interesting – what were you going for there?”  will get you out of telling the truth while not exactly lying.  “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” might be better answered  with “How do they make you feel?”  or “What do you love about them?”   Then there are the tall tales – the exploits of fishing, hunting or great sports acumen that didn’t really happen as the person telling you experienced them but they’re spinning a good yarn, so you let them go with it.  For instance, the one about the 20 pound grouper that was caught but that wiggled off the side of the boat before they could get a picture of it.  Then there's that morning run that went longer and faster than any recent runs, braking any past personal best or the bucks that were fighting in the forest who stopped and ran away when you played “Hopeless Place” on your iPhone because even they could tell that Rianna song was lame.   Those little white lies can spare feelings.   Those tall tales don’t really hurt anyone so they’re really rather harmless. 

It's the other kind of lies - the ones that are told to get out of things, to lead someone on, to further your own agenda, that can can spin wildly out of control.   It can all start innocently enough in childhood when your mother asks you to clean your room and you promise you will.  When she asks,  you tell her you did as you rush out the door to play with your friends.   Then, she actually checks and finds that you shoved all the mess under the bed.  When you come home, you hear about it and get punished.  More than likely, you didn't have a good time playing because you knew you would get it when you got home.   Lying made you feel paranoid, unhappy and worst of all, it let someone you love down.   You'd think most people would learn to stop lying the first few times they feel crappy or have the feeling that they would be found out but some people became immune to that guilt. 

When my improv group holds try outs, I'll usually get about  8 to 10 people who want to come out to audition.  Some of them even friend me on Facebook.  I accept the requests because it gives me a chance to see what sort of stuff they post (hey, it's not snooping if they ASK ME to be their FB friend).   One night, I had an actress use the "family emergency" excuse.   She said that she had to be at the hospital with her family.    The night of auditions finished with a few promising new performers and I went home to check my e-mails and my Facebook page.   The top status update on the feed was from the actress who had the "family emergency."  It turns out her status was that she was bored watching "Dancing with the Stars" with no mention of the being at the hospital.  When she called me later to reschedule, I asked how her family was doing.   She seemed confused and then tried to cover by saying everything was fine now.   I mentioned her post on Facebook which came up on my feed.   Sensing that she had been found out - she took the defensive.  "Oh my God, are you like cyber stalking me?"    She quickly hung up and never called back.   I was actually grateful that I found out before I had even gotten a chance to cast her - it saved me a whole lot of headaches down the road.   

Another time, my improv group had to perform a show with another comedy group the same night because of a booking error.  After that show, I called the woman running the theater to confirm some additional dates.  I was told that she had just received an angry e-mail about the improv show and that it had been sent to the city council and the mayor.   Because of this e-mail she was canceling our shows.  I asked if I could see the e-mail and she replied that it was too angry for me or the other group to see.  I had a friend on the city council and asked her if she had seen it - she replied that she never got it.   When I brought this up - I was met with defensiveness that the e-mail had been written a while ago so they might not have remembered it.   "I thought you said that you just got it,"  I pointed out.   "Uh, the date on it was right after the show because it was so specific but maybe the person waited to send it to me," she said stumbling to keep her facts straight.  "I was going to try to help you out but now it doesn't matter," she fumed and hung up.   Interestingly enough, her group's musical would be ending the weekend before ours - so if she wanted to extend it another week - us not playing there would make the extension a lot easier.   It was at that time that we decided to do the web show which was very successful and got over 225,000 views in nine months.   The theater company that canceled our shows, well - they are not in business anymore.    A little karmic justice goes along way. 

Now it's not that all theater people are dishonest   - but I would think that people who work in the realm of creating fantasy would do a better job of lying - it shouldn't be so easy to pick apart.   One part of me is pulling for them and wants to yell - "C'mon - if you're going to lie to me- dammit - do a much better job of it!  I could run a freight train through the holes in your story."    So as a writer, I would like to offer some pointers on how to lie more effectively.   It's not easy and it takes a lot of thought, planning and a terrific memory but if you work really hard at it you might find it way easier than telling the truth and dealing with the consequences of your actions.

Five Simple Rules for Liars:

1.   Always make the other person doubt themselves if they begin to suspect that you are lying.  Planting self doubt is the best way to make another person question themselves rather than you.  For instance:   When Newt Gingrich's infidelity came up during a debate,  he made it seem like it was not a proper question to ask a political candidate and used media bias as an excuse for his persecution rather than to choosing to answer the question.  It was as if  he was saying that the liberal media made him wrongly appear unfaithful even though it's well documented that he was.  Now that's a master stroke of dishonesty.   Well played Mr. Speaker - no wonder you'll get the Republican nomination!

2.  Paint yourself as something you're not and then spin the story so many times it just might become fact.   Remember the story of the Balloon Boy - whose "eccentric" inventor father Richard Heene claimed that his son Falcon was in the basket of a silver mushroom balloon that he built?  The nation was glued to the TV as the wayward balloon floated over Colorado and finally came down only to find out that the little boy safely "hiding" in the family's attic.   The parents seemed relived that their little guy was safe and sound at home.  After a media storm of interviews, some of the details started to fall apart and little Falcon let it slip that his father told him to hide there.  The whole thing was a hoax.    The parents got into a world of trouble, went to jail and had to pay a $44,000 fine for the time that law enforcement spent trying to find the little tyke.   Another mini lesson to be learned is never trust a small child to keep lying for you.  Their attention span is just not that good - they'll get tired and accidentally tell the truth. 

3. They were mentally incapable of knowing the truth - you did them a favor.   This one is especially good if you are really pushed up against a wall and are trying to justify something really bad that you did - like order that a Marine get killed on Guantanamo Bay to maintain order.   It's especially important to become very angry, stand up, point and yell: "The truth, the truth -- you can't handle the truth."  People will become intimidated and definitely back off - it worked out really well for Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men. 

4.  Do something bad, deny it and get as many people as possible to cover it up -  This tactic worked well for President Nixon after he authorized the break-in to the Democratic National Committee's offices at the Watergate hotel in 1972.   There was hardly any fallout and it was good that President Nixon taped his conversations so that people knew that he was totally innocent.   Even better, he said that  "I can say categorically that... no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident."   That seemed to satisfy Congress who didn't feel the need to investigate any further and the President was able to serve out the rest of his term - those tapes really helped clear him of any wrong doing!

5.  Play fast and loose with definitions to deflect blame  -  First have an affair with a White House intern, but don't actually have sexual intercourse so technically it's not an affair but do all sorts of stuff that your wife would probably not want  you to do with another woman.   Remember when asked if you had an affair to say in a very angry and direct manner - "I did not have sexual relations with that women."  Just make sure that they define sexual relations only as intercourse - then you're in the clear - President Clinton certainly was.   If possible get any blue dresses that might have incriminating residue.  

So you see if two Presidents were able to get away with it, you can too.  No one found out and they were not impeached.  Oh, crap who am I kidding - they didn't get away with a damn thing and it all came crashing down in flames around them.  I guess it's true - honesty is the best policy and it's also way less emotionally and spiritually exhausting.  With the truth, you just don't have to make up so many details that can be picked apart later.    That's why it's always important to strive to be honest.   Oh, by the way - those jeans make your butt look amazing!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Power of Yes and...

I was walking in the park the other day when I happened across a golden retriever who was having the best time in the stream.   She was trying to get a stick.   Well, it wasn't exactly a stick, it was a log, about twenty feet long and maybe 20 inches in circumference.   You could tell by the cheerful expression in her face that she was convinced that she could get it and drag it to the bank.  She would then proudly bring it to her masters who were watching from the bridge.   This dog tried everything she could to get that log:  she chewed chunks off of it, she tried to push it with her blond paws and her nose.  Each time she failed, she kept on going - undeterred by the obvious.    She did succeed in getting one side of the log onto the bank.    Her human parents watched in amusement and finally called her to come to them.   She obeyed immediately and trotted up the bank quite happy that she had gotten the log that far.   Those of us who were watching her caper unfold admired her enthusiasm applauded as she came up to the bridge soaking wet but very proud of what she had been able to accomplish.    She was a dog on a mission and the idea that it was impossible never entered her K-9 brain.   She just had fun and did the best she could with what she had.  That's all she really needed.    

I walked away from the bridge and that soggy retriever and thought about how powerful positive thinking is.   It can be so hard to have that sort of boundless optimism in our society.  We live in a world where snarky comments rule Twitter.  Reality shows reward the bad seeds who yell the loudest and push their own agenda while the people that come up with new and innovative ideas are either ignored or their ideas are stolen by the head bully.    Being positive and thinking outside of the box doesn't get you very far on shows like the Real Housewives or Celebrity Apprentice because to succeed you have to be willing to stomp on anyone - a buddy or colleague to get ahead.   The worst thing about these sorts of shows is that they kill creativity and the importance of true collaboration.  In reality, these shows don't show reality.  In fact Mark Burnett, creator of Survivor and countless other shows refers to them as "unscripted dramas."   Those meltdowns aren't authentic  - they are staged because in the real world you'd be out on your ass for speaking to your boss, coworker, friend, or lover like that.  But  those train wreck moments get ratings and plenty of views on YouTube.  

I like to look at the ways a simple affirmation can change how you live.  In the movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey's mundane life is turned upside down when a self help guru challenges him to say "yes" to the opportunities that come his way.   He goes from being a heartbroken self-imposed shut-in to the fun guy that everyone wants to hang out with.   He saves a man from jumping off a ledge by using the guitar lessons he's started taking to sing Jumper by Third Eye Blind.  He gets his best friend's fiancee to like him when he throws them an engagement party.  He suddenly goes on spur of the moment trips on flights to anywhere.    He finds love because he breaks out of his comfort zone and meets a woman that on the surface would probably not be his type - a singer in an avant garte band whose quirkiness inspires him to be a different man.   By saying yes to all sorts of possibilities, he turns into a self realized human being who is willing to meet life head on rather than running away from it. 

I teach and perform improvisation and one of the first rules I give to my students and new OTC company members is to never block offers - it's important to say "Yes, and..."   For instance if I start a scene with "Hey, it's great that we're finally married and on our honeymoon in Paris," and my scene partner comes back with "We're not married and we live in New Jersey!", the scene crashes and burns in the first few seconds before it can even get off the ground.  The best improvisors will accept the "offer" and build on it - for instance -  "Yes, and I'm so glad that my mother wanted to come with us!"  Now in those first few lines we're in agreement about our relationship, location and now that person has added another level of the meddling mother-in-law which is always comedy gold.   Not blocking offers is key to doing good improvisation but it's also vital in taking your life to the next level. 

One of my comedy goddesses Tina Fey explores this further in her book Bossy Pants.   "Now, obviously in real life you're not always going to agree with everything that everyone says.   But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to 'respect what your partner has created' and at least start from an open-minded place.  Start with YES and see where that takes you."   She goes on to explain that freeing your mind from negativity helps you find some new discoveries if you allow yourself to take that chance.  "There are no mistakes, only opportunities...And many of the world's greatest discoveries have been by accident.  I mean look at the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup or Botox."  

We've all worked with people who have the mentality of "No, we can't do that," "No, that's not in our budget," or  "That's the way we've always done it."   I don't take to that sort of thinking very well.   If you want to keep the status quo and not grow, don't bring new people in with new ideas.   Stay the way you are and stagnate and eventually it will do you in.   I once worked at an international organization where the program staff wanted to take trips overseas for any event they could.   It was eating holes in their budget but they insisted that the frequent trips were necessary to keep up communication with their clients even if it was not specifically to do a training.  In order to minimize the trips in between the trainings,  I suggested doing teleconferences or Skype from the office in Atlanta so that the overseas clients would actually get direct contact more often but the cost would be minimal and the program staff could spend more time at home with their families.   The Director of Finance was on-board with it, but the Program Director threw such a fit that the idea was scrapped and eventually the program itself had to be eliminated because the cost of even doing the twice a year face to face trainings overseas was prohibitive.  If the Program Director had been on board with Skype and teleconferencing, we probably would have saved her program and increased the number of people she could train.  But she was so hard wired to not accept anyone's ideas but hers that eventually the end result was losing her job.   

Recently, I was working with a business group and we worked on the Yes and... game.   The Yes and ... is a good group activity to get everyone to brainstorm and many advertising agencies use it.   We wanted to figure out how to get the arts out there to more people in the local business community.    One of the other facilitators, Sally Corbett, suggested we do an example which was "How do we change the shape of the Dorito?"  My next suggestion was to make it flower shaped like a daisy.   Her next suggestion was to offer dips.   My next idea was to have the dips with plant based colors that were bright and fun.   She then suggested that you could break off the petals and dip them.   I added that if it was sold with a snack plate like a palette than you could paint on it and the proceeds could go towards arts organizations.  We did it with the group and they got the idea: that being open to other people's imaginations and building on it is good for business.   Think what the brainstorming session for the Chick-Fil-a cows must have been like:  "Yeah, we could have cows that encourage people to eat chicken because burgers are made from beef."  "Yes, and" another colleague would add, "they could be slightly mysterious, a little threatening and have really, really bad grammar!"  Boom, one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever was born. 

So don't be afraid to say yes if someone invites you out to somewhere you've never been.   Give it a try, you might just like it.   There have been times that I literally went to places or events kicking and screaming and once I got over myself and relaxed, I was really glad that I went.  You can sit on the couch anytime with the pets or kids and watch a movie, but don't turn down an offer that you know you should take advantage of because it takes you out of your routine.   Take a chance, it might just change your life.  One of my favorite lines from the movie We Bought a Zoo, is when Matt Damon says: "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."  Yes, and... I couldn't agree more.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Birth of a Notion - Part 2

I was sitting on the exam table in a doctor's office because I had a terrible sinus infection that had been going on for a week and I could barely breathe.   The nurse came in and asked the usual questions including asking if I was pregnant in case they needed to prescribe some medication that might be bad for a developing fetus.   I mentioned that Max and I had been trying and that we'd only been at it for a few weeks so the chances of me being pregnant were remote - after all it took my about four months to get pregnant with Amber.   As a precaution, they had me do a pregnancy test.   I sat in the room -- not thinking too much about it.   Then I heard the excited sounds of the nurses talking - "Oh my God, she is, she is!"   Since this was a general practitioner's office, they probably didn't do many pregnancy tests.   Then the nurse came in with a big smile on her face and said "Guess what, you're pregnant!"   I took a deep breath (at this point most of my breaths were big because inhaling from my nose was difficult) and looked at the pee stick in awe.   There was a bright blue cross - which meant pregnant.    I mean, it must have happened a few days after my last period - I wasn't even late.   My head began to swim - me pregnant - now.    I figured I had at least until the spring but this baby wanted to come into the world now and there would be no delays.   The doctor gave me my estimated due date:  December 7th - Pearl Harbor Day - a day that would live in infamy.   He asked if I had an OB-GYN which I did.    I walked out of the doctor's office with more than a sinus prescription - I had another person growing inside of me. 

I called Max immediately in the car and told him.   He told me he knew it.  "How could you know it -- I didn't even know it and I'm the one whose knocked up?"  I replied feeling that newly pregnant buzz.   "I can even tell you which night it happened," he recounted.   I won't go into all the details, but yeah, that was an awesome night.   I then started to think about Amber.   She was not yet four years old and now she was going to be a big sister.  Luckily she loved babies, but would she love the baby that might be stealing some time with Mommy away from her?   Now would not be the time to tell her - it was too soon.   It was way too soon to tell anyone.  I usually like to wait until past the three month mark to be sure and that seemed like a long way out.  I was at best maybe four weeks along - just 10% of the way there and another 36 weeks to go.   I always felt bad for people born in December - they seemed to get gypped out of presents and I was determined not to let the happen to this little to-be.   I drove home in a bit of a daze - a very different person then when I had left the house.   Max met me and gave me a hug.  Amber just wanted me to have a  princess tea party. 

I went to my OB-GYN, a woman who seemed really nice especially because I had insurance.   Things seemed to be going well until we got a call from the insurance company asking if I had given birth.   No, it had just been a couple of months since we found out and I was nowhere near delivering.    Apparently, the doctor's office knew there was a maximum to what the insurance company would cover and put in for the delivery in advance to make sure they were covered.   That didn't seem right and we called the doctor's office who assured us that this was their normal procedure.   We decided to change to another OB - one that had nurse mid-wives so I still had a women's touch during this time and only saw the actual OB a few times.   The pregnancy progressed normally until I had an alpha-fetal protein (AFP) test done which came back a little low.   I had a feeling that they had taken it too early.  I was being pressured to have an amniocentesis done (that's when they stick a large needle into the pregnant belly take out a small sample of amniotic fluid to test for abnormalities).   My gut instinct was that it was a wash - the chances of them finding anything wrong versus endangering a health fetus didn't make sense.   I decided not to do it much the dismay of June, one of the mid-wives who I secretly hoped would not be there when it was time to deliver.   She was a Debbie Downer - always letting you know the negative side of things.  They did another AFP test a week later and it came back normal. 

Unlike my pregnancy with Amber, I did get nauseous in the afternoon which is when I was teaching after school acting classes in a few local elementary schools.  I remembered the advice of my country Cuban doctor from Miami and kept some fruit Lifesavers with me to cut the acid.  It worked most of time although there was one class where I prayed another adult would be standing by in case I needed to run to the bathroom and toss my cookies during class.   I managed to keep it together and was hoping that these afternoon attacks would pass quickly.   

At the three month mark, we told Amber that we were going to have a baby and that right now it was in Mommy's stomach.   She patted my stomach and said "Hi, baby."   I told my parents on a trip to Tallahassee to see my sister and her family.   I snuck a picture of the ultrasound in with some pictures I had taken of Amber.    My parents and sister were so excited and showered Amber with all sorts of praise for becoming a big sister.   It's hard to know what a four year old understands, but if having a baby meant you got hugs and new toys, then this second kid thing was not turning out to be that bad. 

As time wore on, I got bigger and bigger.  First I got big in my boobs which is always a bonus, especially for the fathers.  Then the fifth month hit which is when you don't have a prego belly yet and people who don't know you're pregnant try to be nice about the fact you've put on some weight and no longer have a waistline.   At the six month mark it's pretty obvious you're pregnant.  When I hit six months, I looked huge.   Not just from the side, but all around.   It didn't really hit me until I was shopping at Pea in a Pod, a maternity store with Amber and happened to see my behind in not one mirror but three at the same time.   I gasped and said "Oh my God, my ass is huge."  Amber started to laugh, ran out of the dressing room and in the middle of the store shouted "Oh God, huge ass!"  I managed to put a robe on to get her to come back into the dressing room as a room full of sympathetic women looked on.  "Don't worry honey, I think you butt looks just fine," said an older sales lady which was reassuring and creepy at the same time.  

Since this was my second baby, I was acutely aware of the fact that he or she (I never found out the sexes of my children before hand - call me traditional - I liked to be surprised) might come very fast.  Since my hard labor with Amber was only 26 minutes I was afraid to sneeze.  At this point, I was working for as a marketing director at an Atlanta theater which just made my phobia about delivering while driving on I-85 even worse.   As my delivery date got closer, I tele-communuted - attending staff meetings via phone and e-mailing press releases and media packages to the office for approval.    Worse, I kept on thinking I was in labor when I wasn't and dragged Max to the hospital twice in the middle of the night only to be turned away empty handed and still very pregnant. 

My parents came for a visit and I felt like I could relax because if I went into labor, there was someone to look after Amber.   I had already gotten her stickers that said "Amber is a Big Sister" for her to hand out to her Pre-K class and a big sister t-shirt.   It was getting to be the first week of December and her assignment for school was to have her family talk about about holiday traditions on audio tape.   It was really sweet and while were reading The Night Before Christmas with Mom, Dad and Max, I felt a little contraction.   I didn't say anything since I had lugged Max out of bed twice before to go to the hospital - so I kept my mouth shut until about 2:00 a.m. when they seemed to be pretty regular.  I woke him up and told him I was pretty sure this was it.    We got my bags (they were packed and I had a fresh pedicure this time) and we headed through the snowy night to Gwinnett Medical Center.   We got there and were met immediately but June, my least favorite mid-wife.   She asked me if I had ever gotten the amino to which I answered with a very curt "No, and what difference does it make now?"   That probably was not the right thing to say but I was very uncomfortable.   She decided not to give me much in the way of pain killers (I had one little dose of something that dulled the pain for about 20 minutes and then wore off).   Luckily another midwife showed up so it wouldn't be all June in the delivery room.   

The midwives both left Max and I in the room while they consulted and I remember being aware of the fact that giving life was very much like death.   I was in intense pain and when it was all over, things would be very different.  My life would never be the same.  I also thought I saw an angel hovering near by which was very comforting.   

Then came the time to push without an epidural like I had with Amber so it was full on painful - take no prisoners child birth.   I prayed that this baby would be as fast to push out as Amber.  The pain and the burning were intense. I was trying to take yoga breaths while I was pushing.   I was looking at everyone's face when they told me the head had just come out.   The cord was wrapped around the neck and the baby looked very pale.  June informed Max that he wouldn't be able to cut the cord - to which he replied "That's fine just do it!"   They cut the cord and he was finally delivered - my little Daniel was finally here.  However, his APGAR score was around 2 or 3 which meant a baby in distress.    They called the NICU nurses in.  Max felt like if we had let them take him away, we'd never see him alive again.  He asked if he could hold the baby's hands which they allowed  him to do.    Max, who is a Reiki Master (Reiki is a form of energy healing) held Daniel's hands and gave him the biggest shot of Reiki he's ever done.   Max's eyes were closed for maybe a minute when the nurses said "Mr. Grimm, you can let go now," just as Daniel took a big breath and started to cry.   He turned a healthy pink and he even had enough strength to do his first official act of defiance - which was to pee on everyone standing around the table.  His level of trajectory was very impressive.   

The look of relief on Max's face was immeasurable.   I got a chance to see him and touch his little hands before they washed him.   He had strawberry blond hair and weighed in at 8 pounds 14 ounces, but they weighed him after he pissed, so I say it was closer to 9 pounds since I delivered a full bladder.  Then, I finally got to hold him.  He was the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen and nothing could ruin this moment, with one exception.  June, always the bearer of good news, mentioned that his second toe was bigger then his big toe on his right foot which could mean it was a sign of mental retardation.   I smiled and pointed to my manicured feet which both had second toes which were bigger then the big toe.  "I guess it hereditary and by the way - my IQ is 128 - just 12 points from genius - I think we're good."  

Later that day, a pediatrician came to look at Daniel and true to form, he tried to pee on the doctor as well - to which the good natured physician remarked "That is the most ambushing kid I've ever seen."    Amber came by with my Mom and Dad.  We had a present from the baby to give Amber which was a Mermaid Barbie that she'd been wanting for a long time.  She immediately tore the box open and started to play with it.   She gave Daniel a little mobile that converted into a baby musical toy.   She smiled at her new baby brother and patted his head.  "Nice baby," she said.   To this day, they still get along amazingly well. 

Christmas came three weeks later in the year 2000.    When people asked me what I wanted for Christmas I replied, "A healthy baby."   I got my wish and I've been very grateful ever since.   December 5th is definitely a day that will live in infancy.