The gift

harriet_the_spy.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxI straddle the generational line in my extended family. Some of my aunts and uncles are closer to my age than my mother’s. I have one uncle who’s two years older than I am; my grandparents were only in their 40s when I was born. I have 25 first cousins; I’m three years older than my oldest, and 33 years older than my youngest.

When I was a kid, the grownups would crowd into one room, chattering and laughing and bickering, and I’d herd the little ones in the next. I was old enough to understand the adults’ discussion, but I wasn’t quite allowed. Besides, I loved kids even then, and my cousins loved me back.

As I gave horsey rides to my cousins or played chess or read to them, I’d listen to the grownups, their stories and jokes, always feeling a little melancholy that I was still in the other room, never quite cool enough to be with the grownups.

It’s a dynamic that’s still true today in some ways; we never outgrow our childhood identities within our family. I don’t think I’m viewed as a good mom or a successful author in my extended family; I’m just Kristan, the sweet, dorky kid who was so good at babysitting. One of my uncles once said to me, “Of all the people in the family to be a writer, who could’ve guessed it would be you?” Insulting, but there you have it.

UnknownThe thing is, of course it was going to be me. Invisibility has its perks. I can’t tell you how many inappropriate conversations I overheard as a kid. Instead of trying to be the storyteller, I was absorbing the stories, tucking them away for someday, though I didn’t know it then. Battles over loyalty, stories of heartbreak and disappointment, accusations of lying, hurt feelings and tightly held grudges…but also memories of relatives gone, adventures as children, the days of childhoods past. I remember hearing the swells of laughter as my aunts and uncles competed for who was funniest, fastest, sharpest. Nothing could be more wonderful than being there in the kitchen where I wasn’t quite allowed, where conversation would quiet if I sidled into the room.

I managed. The back hall was great for overhearing things, as was the little space beside the radiator and the stairs landing.

Today, as I was working, I could hear my mother and aunt as they talked, their voices rising and waning on the breeze that blew through my windows. I couldn’t make out their words, but it was lovely, my aunt’s husky laugh, my mom’s higher voice. It was like old times; I was there, but not quite, and still wondering what the grownups were talking about.

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By any other name

Kristan Higgins is my real name. I didn’t change it when I married McIrish for the simple reason that I didn’t want to. I don’t have many Higgins relatives, my dad had died recently, so I figured I’d keep my name. Plus, I liked how it sounded better, to be honest.

bunnyKristan is my mother’s maiden name, the last name of her Hungarian grandfather. So both parents are fully represented in my name. McIrish rarely calls me Kristan; I’m honey or, even better, The Bunny. Adorable, is it not?

The thing is, Kristan…right? Or Kristin, Kristen, Christen, Christin, Krystin. It was a hugely popular name, though my mom swears she didn’t know a single child with the same name. Aside from my family origins, I found my name quite uninspired throughout my childhood. It was neither hip enough, unusual enough nor classic enough to be a great name, I thought. I yearned to have another name.

UnknownMisty, for example. Oh, stop laughing! I loved that name! The fact that I also loved Misty of Chincoteague probably had something to do with this. But I knew a girl named Misty, and she was so pretty and knew how to dress, and also got kissed by boys in public and everything, so clearly she was all I was not.

Jessica. That seemed like the ultimate perfect name. Never mind that every other girl was named Jessica, I too wanted to be Jessica! Or…Jesse. How cool would that be! Note: Jesse Hayworth, aka Jessica Andersen, my friend and fellow author, is totally living my dream.

Sarah. This is a lovely, perfect name, simple and pretty. My best friend’s mom is named Sarah, as well as a sweet girl I once babysat.

nameBut when the time came that I had good reason to use another name—authorhood—I opted to keep Kristan Higgins. Seemed like a rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet.

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No whining

UnknownThe other day, some friends and I were whining in the manner that friends whine to each other. Subjects included hot flashes, muscle pain, weather, children, work, writing, weather, boredom, professional organizations, siblings, parents, weather, coworkers…uh…kind of everything under the sun. And it was funny, because just recently, I’d been aggravated by a person who’s very negative. I was complaining about a complainer. Whining about a whiner.

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Then, in the manner that the universe sometimes lets you know you need to snap out of it, I saw something on the internet: the 24-Hour No Complaining Challenge. “I’m not complaining for 24 hours!” I immediately announced to McIrish. “Oh, boy,” he said, which made me wonder just how much of a little black rain cloud I’ve been lately.

Unknown-1And so it began. Weather was the first challenge; it hasn’t been beautiful around here, all that melting, gritty snow, and then rain, and then more snow. But that was okay! Because complaining wasn’t going to change it! Besides, it builds character. Then came parking in a city notorious for bad parking. Not a problem! The parking gods smiled on us, and we found a spot. Already, it seemed, my karma was being returned.

Then a serious challenge: the Apple store, which I’ve previously called Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell. But no! I didn’t even make fun of the hipsters and their indoor hats. I was feeling the bliss. I was Miss Ray of Sunshine! Our genius actually fixed our problem! And you know, I did feel happier.

Denzel Washington CryJust deciding not to vocalize the little negatives for this window of time made be feel extremely optimistic. I bounced into a restaurant, made friends with the maître d’ just like that, cheerfully ordered a jalapeno martini, and proceeded to have a great date night with McIrish. When the guy next to me failed to be as friendly as I was, I didn’t even tell McIrish about it. Messy house? Not a problem. I cheerfully enlisted the boys to help me clean up. Cat barf? That’s okay! It happens. McIrish inviting 20 people over without telling me? I will bake cookies for everyone! (That one was a little hard, I admit. But it was done, so why whine?)

No-whiningThe 24 hours flew by. I decided to go for 48. Seconds after announcing that, I walked into the garage door, which wasn’t up all the way, hit my head, and the streak was over. But guess what? I can start my 24 hours again at any moment.

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Day at the museum

As you may know, Princess and I are terribly cultured. We demonstrated this by going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Snippets from our conversation include:

armourIn the Arms & Armory Wing: “I love that sword! Think of all the people I could smite with that!”

Also, “That armor is so pretty! Now I want armor, too.”

In the Impressionist area: “I like how everything is so swirly and smeary.”

In the sculpture garden: “Want me to take a picture of you in front of that naked boy statue?”

UnknownIn the furniture wing: “Oooh! Narnia!”

In front of the lamppost in the American Wing courtyard: “Oooh! Narnia!”

In the Egypt wing: “That mummy case looks like Kim Kardashian.”

“There’s your sarcophagus. Time for bed! In you go!”

In the modern stuff, in front of a painting of large blue square: “Ah. Art,” and also “I could do that in about five minutes.”

We went out for dinner, pleased that the restaurant had us sitting next to each other, instead of facing so we could see the same patrons and speculate about them. We both had IMG_0878cappucinos, which proved to be a bad choice when we got the super-caffeinated giggles on the train ride back to Connecticut, annoying everyone around us (which, unfortunately, only made us laugh harder).

The nicest part of the day was this, though…we still hold hands. She’s in college now, becoming a wonderful adult, but she still holds my hand. Maybe to look out for me as I try to jaywalk, or maybe just to make sure I know she’s still my little girl.

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Blood sport

UnknownMy sainted mother loves to hate shopping.

The last time the Princess was home from college, my mom called me. “I need some clothes,” she said. “Will you—”

“Absolutely not,” I said. Because yes, she was about to ask me to go shopping with her. Years of experience have taught me that without a flask and some powerful narcotics, I should not go shopping with my mother. Let’s put it this way. There’s a store in the mall where we’re greeted with, “Oh, God, you two again.” Maybe more than one, now that I think of it.

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Not my mother

“Do you think the Princess will go with me?” Mom asked.

“Sure!” I answered, blithely throwing my daughter under the bus. After all, Princess has a pretty easy life. Time for her to tote that barge. Also, there was the faint possibility that my daughter, who is lovely and sweet and kind and has great taste in clothes, could help my mother more than I could.

So off Princess went, naive and happy. Several hours later, she returned. “That was horrible,” she said, tossing back a few Motrin. “I’ll never do that again.”

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“What happened?” I asked mother. “You’ve crushed my child’s spirit.”

“Nothing!” Mom said, gleefully feigning ignorance. Turned out that Mom did the old I hate all clothing ever made, sack cloth and ashes will do just fine routine for which is rightfully famous.

wineMy mom’s friend Jill sometimes takes her shopping. God bless Jill, I always say. She can usually convince my mother to buy something. Sometimes, I’ll see her after such an outing, and Jill will give me a grim look, widening her eyes at me in the universal I need a drink look that we all have after going shopping with my mother.

I know what you’re thinking. My poor mother. Don’t be fooled. She loves doing this. It’s a blood sport—Go ahead. Find me an outfit. I dare you. And listen, if you feel so bad, you can go with her next time.

 

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Like fine wine…

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Dear Lord, thank You for making Idris.

Sure, sure, I’m madly in love with Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hardy and that hottie who plays Thor.

But I’m also a woman of a certain age, in the last throes of her 40s, and so I give you my age-appropriate crushes. There’s just something about a man with staying power.

 

54c83278b0a366cdd543e875fa882f5bTopping the list, of course, is RDJ, who often appears in my dreams (thanks, Bobby.) I call this picture “the ovary destroyer.” I loved him when we were both young. I felt so bad when he went through his bad days. I feel so proud of him now. Those eyes don’t hurt my adoration.

 

1johnAnd here’s John Stamos. Who knew, right? I mean, really, the mullet from the 80s, the bad movies, the saccharine TV show…and then we get this. Those yogurt commercials? Thank you! More please!

 

 

EB7BDA08A8BNorman Reedus, or Daryl of the Amazing Arms from The Walking Dead. The first time I saw him, I thought, “Oh, dear Lord, take a shower, honey.” Then I heard him speak. Oooh. Very nice! That growly, sullen, bad-boy thang…yaas, bae! Stay dirty, Daryl! (My children cringe when I talk like that. So what? Let them cringe!)

 

Unknown-1Hugh “Perfection” Jackman. I’m gonna be honest here and tell you something shocking. His looks…not my type. Yeah, yeah, he’s perfect, but were I in a bar with Idris and RDJ and Norman Reedus and Hugh (ehrmagerd, yes, let’s run with this!), Hugh would be last on the list of men I found attractive. Until I realized it’s St. Hugh of Perfect, married for more than two decades to the same woman, father of two adopted kids, and by all accounts, the nicest man on the planet. So it’s his heart that makes me love him. I’m not always shallow.

Well, that’s all the eye-candy I have today. Enjoy! Back to work for me.

 

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The height of dorkiness

color_nimoy_headshot(This blog first appeared in May 2009 when I saw the first in the rebooted Star Trek series.  I’m rerunning it in honor of Leonard Nimoy, who always seemed like such a decent man.)

The height of dorkiness is me, actually. Sure, I may have a slightly better haircut than when I was a kid, and my clothes are stylish, thanks to my daughter, but in my heart of hearts, I’m a dork. This point was driven home last night as McIrish and I went to see “Star Trek.” Um…I loved it. And I have a crush on Mr. Spock. And when (teensy plot spoiler here) Leonard Nimoy made his cameo, I…er…got all choked up.

Star Trek reruns played on Saturday nights when I was a kid. Saturday nights in our family home meant my parents were going out. Mom had hot rollers in her hair and was redoing her makeup, Dad was shaving and whistling, and the three little Higgins kiddies were, in the great American tradition, glued to the TV set, watching Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise kicking Klingon butt.

Leonard-NimoyI went to see all of the big screen movies. I remember when the words “In memory of Gene Roddenbury” flashed during the credits just after the creator of the show died, and I burst into applause. Someone in the audience shouted, “Get a life!” (it was New York, so there you go), but I didn’t care. I was grateful for the man who’d invented the Saturday evening entertainment of my youth. And last night, I once again felt the old ticker thumping away, even though I was quite sure Captain Kirk would prevail yet again. Space. The final frontier. Dorky? Absolutely. I embrace it. Live long and prosper!

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Maria the CNA

Image3_LonelySixteen years ago and change, I was in the hospital having my son, and I was wicked, wicked sick. Sick enough to be rushed into the OR in the middle of the night, sick enough to have an out-of-body experience where I watched myself having seizures from above. Sick enough that a nurse, who’d seen me on a Monday and came back on Friday, was surprised that I was still alive. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Bedbound, too, unable to stand without fainting. Quite a mess, I was! All sorts of drama.

But who cares about that? I want to tell you about Maria.

Maria was my CNA, my certified nursing assistant. You know. The ones who do the dirty work. She’d get me from one johnny coat into another. She’d change the sheets without me needing to get out of bed, and on at least one occasion, she fed me. She didn’t speak much English, and probably didn’t know why I cried every time she gave me an efficient sponge bath. She used Dove soap, the same brand my grandmother used.

Maria took care of me like I was her daughter. I was alone in the hospital, McIrish taking care of our not-quite three-year-old and working fulltime, our one-and-a-half pound son upstairs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My mom would visit, but she was terrified, as any mother would be, seeing her formerly strapping child unable even to lift her head. But Maria had seen worse, no doubt. She’d sing to me, and tsk over my tears. “You okay, you okay,” she’d say as she did her job.

I got better, obviously. Once I got out of the hospital, I went back every day to see Dearest Son, who was a scrappy little thing. And then, one day on the elevator, I saw her. “Maria!” I said, my eyes filling with tears. “Maria, it’s me.” Then, realizing she took care of hundreds and hundreds of people, I clarified. “You took care of me.” She just smiled and nodded. Patted my back as I hugged her. I don’t think she recognized me.

The nurses and doctors at Yale were great. But they didn’t wash me. They didn’t feed me. They didn’t wipe my eyes when I was too weak to lift my arm. Maria did that.

huggingI don’t know that I’d recognize her again. She was a short Hispanic ladies in her 50s or so, and she worked in a big-city hospital filled with many women matching that description. It was sixteen years ago. But maybe, someday—maybe even when I die, because I’m schmaltzy and like to believe in any version of heaven that lets me thank people—I’ll see her again, and there will be no language barrier, and I’ll say, “Maria, I never forgot you.”

 

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Plotmonkeying around

10636949_1004543849575774_6940690192034434482_oI didn’t blog this weekend. I’m sorry! I was too busy rolling around on a floor, laughing till my teeth chattered. A plotting weekend with the women I call the Plot Monkeys, minus one of us, who was unfortunately unable to come at the last minute.

What does such a weekend entail, you ask? I’ll tell you!

Wine. Pajamas. Food. Comfortable seating. Ice packs (we all seemed to be sporting some kind of injury this weekend. It might’ve been wise to bring a very strong, non-English-speaking massage therapist along.)

There is nothing that can’t get the Plotmonkeys laughing. This weekend, conversations devolved thanks to bizzare acronyms (FASF…I will never tell you what that stands for); inadvertently pornographic word combinations; drum circles; body parts that were never meant to look like mushrooms; super-long toenails and the people who sport them; and hot flashes. As always, the word moist destroyed any sensible conversation we attempted to have.

And oh, yes, we worked! We worked a lot, and we had the most fun doing it. Times like this, I’m so glad I’m not an electrical engineer. Being a writer is the best! So thank you, readers, for giving me that.

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And good morning to you, too!

0181f75d35a7b9a230ac85c847233dbfI’m a vivid dreamer. Sometimes, that’s a blessing—Robert Downey Jr. and I have had several very romantic dates in the ether world, and Derek Jeter and I have gotten married not once, but twice. I’ve dreamt of my darling grandparents and my dad, who come to visit me from the afterlife. I usually dream between 5 and 5:30, when I wake up, so I remember a lot of my dreams.

But I also have weird, inexplicable dreams. And I’m a talker, so I tend to narrate them to my poor husband. And so…

Things Kristan Has Said to McIrish Upon Awakening:
(Note: I rarely mumble. I use my outside voice.)

“I’m being paralyzed. Why won’t you help me? I can’t move my arms!”

“There’s a tick in my back and it’s spurting Lyme disease into my spine!”

“I found the baby! Why aren’t you more excited?”

Unknown“You fix it.” (I hand him my iPhone, which serves as our alarm clock.) “It’s your damn cathedral.”

“Why did you divorce me? Don’t you love me anymore?”

“I dreamed James Franco and I were married and we were really happy!”

jackfrozen-thumb-500x374“My head is frozen.”

You may be shaking your head and thinking, “That poor McIrish is a saint.” But hey! At least we have interesting things to talk about over coffee.

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