Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Put a Little Love in your Heart

To know me is to love me. I am a selfless giver, a person of sacrifice- a sort of Mother Teresa-type if you will. And if you believe this, then I also have an African elephant for sale in my back yard for the discounted price of thirty thousand dollars (cash only please).

I tease.

In reality I am more likened to Veronica Salt in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where you can hear me singing ‘I want it now!’ most days of the year and Christmas usually gives me just the platform I need to justify this behavior. But this year is different. Blame my maturity, or blame ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition; but I feel like giving back this year and giving others a chance at a Christmas of their dreams. And so this year, in lieu of gift giving to each other, my family and I will be combining our normal Christmas funds to sponsor several underprivileged families and elderly in nursing homes that do not have family. Sure, I am giving up my chance at an IPad, or those ankle boots that I have been eyeing since September; but those things flew out of my mind once I hit the store in search of the perfect gift for the nine year old girl who simply asked for Jolly Ranchers and Fruit Snacks “because she didn’t want to make a list that would cost too much money and make her mom feel bad.”
And so, come this Christmas, when we go to deliver the gifts to the elderly as a family, or see the look on the kids’ faces as they believe that Santa really was listening; I have a feeling that they won’t be the only ones there who are having the Christmas they will never forget. I have discovered that there is no greater gift than giving of yourself to see the joy in others. And that my friends, is a Christmas miracle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Queen has arrived...

We have all heard the stories. The tragic cases of kids being bullied, many of them taking their lives from being tormented by their peers for being viewed as different. I find it heartbreaking and distressing that these bullies- these kids- have lost the ability to feel compassion and the awareness that their words have consequences.

But that is not what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about a special girl and a special high school in Tupelo, MS that is dispelling all the stories in the media today. Amanda Aldridge is a beautiful seventeen year old girl who happens to have Downs Syndrome. She attends Tupelo High School where she is the manager of the girls basketball team (to whom she is frequently referred to as "Coach Aldridge" and gives the pep talks before the game), a member of the thesbian theater group and the fellowship of Christian Athletes. She has loads of friends, not because they are patronizing, but because they see her as one of their peers- and they cannot deny her sweet spirit that is contagious to all who come in contact with her.
Tupelo High School has a student body of over 2000 students who are responsible for voting for the Homecoming Court maids. Once Amanda was nominated, the students started campaigning for her, many of those being the girls who were willing to give up their own seat so she could be the Homecoming Queen. When the day finally arrived, Amanda was voted by the students of Tupelo High School to be the 2010 Homecoming Queen. When she found out, her mother told me she looked at her and said, "See mom, I told you I was going to win!" The support didn't end there. That morning, Amanda received a bouquet of flowers from two other senior maids who were nominated and when she arrived at school, the basketball team threw her a surprise party that said, "Amanda is our Queen." And as for Amanda, she hasn't stopped smiling since.

And so when all of the news stories talk about the doom and gloom of the world, with all the negativity that makes headlines day in and day out, I wanted to shine a light on something that was worth being told- that in it's truest form, the human spirit is a wonderous beauty and has the capacity to love regardless of any differences we may have. And just like Amanda, that is something that deserves honor.

The Queen herself, looking beautiful as ever.

Monday, November 8, 2010

At Home TN Article- November

Home for the Holidaze
At Home Tennessee columnist Mandi Gaskin braves the battlefield where many visit but few survive: A Family Thanksgiving.

I love this time of year. A chill takes hold of the air, pumpkins are being carved and turkeys are running for their lives. It’s a time of peace and thankfulness; that is until you arrive at your family Thanksgiving. And if your family is anything like mine, you need a stiff drink and a visit to your therapist to refill your meds by the time dessert is served. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family in small doses, but when all 57 of them come together it’s like a full moon on Friday the 13th that causes all of them to get crazy-eyed and act out in a way that is neither normal nor appropriate. You see, I come from a musical family. And by that I mean every single person in my family thinks they can sing better than the person beside them. And therefore every holiday get together turns into an American Idol audition, except with middle aged participants belting out gospel hymns or Broadway tunes. It always starts out innocently enough. When my aunt invariably hops on the piano for a family friendly sing-a-long and starts singing “When the Roll is called up Yonder.” But by the second verse you can’t hear yourself think over the competing roars of vibrato. I remember one Thanksgiving when I was 10 years old I decided to join in on the chorus and started singing harmony with the others, and suddenly my mother looks at me and says, “Get off my part.” It is every man for himself amongst such fierce competition. The first time I brought my husband home for the holidays I watched as my aunt sauntered over to the piano and I broke out into a sweat, knowing exactly what was about to happen. When the voices reached into octaves that only dogs can hear I saw my husband sitting there with his mouth hanging open, staring in disbelief. I just mouthed, “I’m sorry. Don’t leave me.” He hasn’t. Yet.
I know that I am not the only one that feels this way about their family. A friend of mine once told me that he doesn’t even consider it Thanksgiving until at least two rolls have been thrown across the dinner table and someone is crying in the bathroom. “I wouldn’t change it for anything though,” he mused, “it’s free entertainment. Sort of like dinner and a movie, and every year I like to try to guess the ending.” I know exactly what he means, my holiday doesn’t officially kick off until I have been insulted by both my mother (“Did you mean to wear your hair like that?”) and my grandmother (“That baby weight is not going to lose itself you know.”).
My sister doesn’t fair much better at these functions. She is single and in her 30’s which my family translates as desperately alone and needy. And to resolve this they bring pictures of a “nice boy from church with an unfortunate case of acne” as potential suitors to fulfill her void. She keeps a bottle of wine in her car for such emergencies. But this year will be different for her as she has met “the one” and will be bringing him home for the first time to be sacrificed at our family Thanksgiving. I don’t know what I am looking forward to more, my uncle asking him how much money he makes or my mother asking him if he and my sister have consummated their relationship.
But the truth is, no matter how much I complain or get embarrassed by this group of lunatics that are my family, looking back over the decades that we have spent together, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change anything about them. Yes they are loud and wildly inappropriate, but they love each other fiercely and are passionate about a bond that makes a family. And much to my chagrin, they are responsible for the person that I am today and for that I will always have the utmost love and respect for them. And speaking of respect, that reminds me, I need to start practicing my Aretha Franklin solo for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Mandi Gaskin is a mother, wife, and writer. She would like to formally apologize to her family, who has blacklisted her from Thanksgiving this year for making fun of them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ho's in the front, Bro's in the back

Last weekend we were invited to go to a dinner event in Kentucky with friends. And since we have fancy friends, there was a limo rented to take us to the event and back. As soon as the limo arrived, the couples climbed in and immediately segregated like it was 1952 in Mississippi, with girls in the front and boys in the back. This wasn't anything unusual as it happens most of the time when we go out with other married couples but I never paid much attention to it until then. And so I got curious and started observing the two groups- and soon discovered the answer to this social phenomenon.
The girls were sitting in front with their wine in stemware while exchanging feelings on aging and the general consensus of public school and where it is going in the future. There was talk about the newest diets we've tried, the stress of balancing work and home, and even shed a few tears when the conversation turned to the tender moments of motherhood and the hardships of keeping the romance alive after years of marriage.

And then I turned around to look at the guys- who were blaring the Marshall Tucker Band, drinking god knows what from flower pots they found while looking up dirty words on the UrbanDictionary.com and giggling like 10 year old school girls when one of them screamed out the definition for "Douche Rocket."

The girls just looked back with a quiet resignation and understanding that boys will always be stuck in the 5th grade, and we will just have to drink more.

Point: Made.
Case: Closed.