“Thank-You-Ma’am” or “Fan Mail to My Perfect Fan”

Hey, Momma – did you know a “thank-you-ma’am” is defined as “a bump or depression in the road”? “From its causing the head to nod as though in acknowledgment of a favor”, it says. Amazing, the bits of trivia a glance through a dictionary can turn up.

In other news…

"It's your birthday?!"
“It’s your birthday?!”

It’s your birthday! And since I gave Daddy his very own blog post in recognition of his birthday, I can in good conscience do no less for you today. ‘Cause, y’know, you’re just as special. (:

So let’s take a few moments to celebrate the role you’ve played in making me the awesome author gal on the brink of publication we all know and love today, why don’t we?

You gave birth to me. Obvious, but vital.

You treated me like a wordsmith-to-be from day one. No baby talk between you and me, oh no. (Not until these last few years, anyway.) Your one-sided conversation showed Infant Me how English was supposed to sound, and your intolerance for non-words like “lookit” guided my early communication toward a healthy formality. Everyone who compliments me as well-spoken has you to thank.

You taught me that every character has his or her own voice. All your patient repetitions of “Spot” flap-books really drove that lesson home. Turtles advising us to “try the basket” sound different from lions declaring, “No one can see me!” With your example before me – not to mention countless hours of your audio book picks in the kitchen and on the road – I learned how reading aloud can make a story leap off the page, and how crucial it is to let each character I create sound true to their individual selves.

Spot and I share this in common.
Spot and I share this in common.

You let it be okay to treat fiction as reality. If I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes, you handed me a deerstalker cap and set me off on a Birthday Hunt mystery. When my obsessions moved in a more boy band and “Lord of the Rings” direction, you arranged for the Backstreet Boys and some Scottish pirate person growling about Aragorn to leave me a string of touching messages on the phone’s answering machine. And even now, you’ll buddy around with Will Scarlet when he bursts into our conversations, like he does. As interesting an experience as it might have been to get sent to a mental institution, I like the way you deal with me better.

You always supported my creative endeavors. …Even if the endeavor was a big glob of colored glue. You never begrudged my colossal wastes of paper on treasure maps to nowhere, board games with no rules, summonses, ventriloquist dummies, and of course, stories. You gave me pretty much free rein to dabble in artistic media, and when I eventually decided that my strongest passion lay in writing, you rooted for me 100%. You became one of my first critique partners and complaint buddies about writerly pet peeves; a listening ear when I need to talk through story stumbles, and a sometimes surprising source of inspiration; a wall between the world’s bothersome distractions and my writer’s cave; and the first person I want to go to with either hard disappointments or heady victories. I don’t know how authors without amazing mommies do it.

You pretty much did everything there was to do, shy of writing my stories for me. I’m glad you left that part to me. I happen to love my job, more or less as much as I love you.

Thank you, ma’am, Backstreet-style. I luvva you.

Momma and Me, circa her 55th Birthday

“Memories” or “A Sort of Mental Scrapbook Thingy, In Lieu of a Real Gift”

Some men have wonderful daughters who go all-out on their father’s birthdays with cards and gifts and special surprises and who knows what all. Then there’s you, Dad, who, between the three of your daughters, will generally get a handful of “Happy birthday!”s and a family dinner out on your dime.

That’s just the usual, mind you. For this year’s birthday – today – you’ll get a little extra; namely, I’m dedicating this blog post to my personal “things remembered” that revolve around you. Some of these recollections may ring a bell with you, others may not. Either way, may this serve as a token of the impact you’ve had on my current mental state.

Once when I was quite young, we attended some sort of father/daughter function. I was all dressed up and excited to spend the evening with you, daddy’s girl that I was, back then. Whoever was running this show had us playing some game where you had to guess my favorite this, that, and the other. When asked my favorite color, you said blue. My answer? Green. From that night to this day, I have no idea why I said that. Blue has ever been my uncontested favorite color, with green hanging out in third place at best. But when put on the spot with a microphone in her face, Little Danielle said green, and immediately felt like a schmuck for making you look like you didn’t know your own daughter, when the truth was that you were probably the only one in the room who had a clue. I have yet to forgive myself.

I once had a nightmare in which abominable snowmen emerged from my bedroom’s humidifier. Dream Me fled into the old condo’s living room, seeking your protection. You stood up to the monsters like a good father should, but the last I recall seeing of the battle, you looked gravely overwhelmed. I don’t think this was a reflection of my waking childhood opinion of you, because I more or less assumed that you could take on any threat, from bugs to thugs to frozen abominations. In dreams, on the other hand, you’ll half the time feature as the antagonist yourself. Don’t feel picked on, though; Mom and I have been known to get into some knock-down, drag-out dream fights, too.

– The highlight of our first family trip to Mackinac Island was the bike ride around the isle’s perimeter. Yeah, the scenery was pretty, but I mostly remember it because you and I shared a bicycle built for two. Pedaling in tandem with you felt super special, and I don’t recall your telling me to stop that incessant singing of my spur-of-the-moment songs, not once. A minstrel father wouldn’t have been half so tolerant. Thank you.

– How ‘bout that time you were doing handstands against the door? You probably don’t know which specific time I mean, since that kind of physical stuff is an everyday thing, for you. I was in another room, at the time, and so wouldn’t have even known what you were up to, had I not heard a strained cry of “Who-o-oa!” just before you fell over. Such was my preferred brand of comedy, at that young age, so I’ve never forgotten the laugh you unintentionally provided. And speaking of inside laughs that will go down in history…

– Hoish browns and the Rich Builder Payer. Crime’s on, that’s all I’m going to say.

Do you remember our “Goodnight” song? Man, I may have been in my teens before we finally let that bedtime tradition die. Again, a minstrel father wouldn’t have put up with it. Or he’d have written a better song.

What about our wrestling matches? Not that “matches” is really the word for it, since I was never anything like a match for you, with or without my sisters’ occasional support. I don’t know why we invited them to join in the giggly roughhousing in the first place; one of them usually ended up crying, and besides, it was our thing. …Originally, anyway. Part of my birthright as the firstborn. What sort of silly, so-called rights did you have as firstborn of your father, I wonder? Apart from the “Jr.” on the end of your name. I didn’t get one of those, and so embraced “Danielle Elizabeth Shipley, No Jr.” as my full name for some years. It was the closest I could get to making a match of our names, if not our grappling ability.

I don’t actually remember telling you to shave your mustache, but I can’t say I’m sorry that I reputedly did; the ‘stache was scratchy, that I remember. And I remember shaving with you, from time to time – you with your actual razor, me with… what did you even give me to get all the cream off my face? I’ve forgotten that, too. Gosh, we must have looked adorable, though.

At least our faces mostly match. (:
At least our faces mostly match. (:

I could go on, of course. After twenty-four years with you, I’ve got memories stacked up past the rafters. And I hope we’ll have just as many future years, and more, to add to the pile.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Luv-a you.

“Getting”

(Think you’ve got this blog series’ introduction memorized yet? Let’s see if we can recite it, word for word. All together, now!)

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

* * *

#5: Gifts (Getting Them)

            Popping awake at the first spidery crack of dawn. Dashing headlong down the stairs, or perhaps just down the hall. Sliding into a brightly-lit, evergreen home plate, because you are ready to score, and to score big. For many, this is the highlight of Christmas – the point of Christmas – what Christmas means to them, actual reason–shmeason. Quite honestly, even Child Danielle more or less felt this way. (“Happy birthday, Jesus! Now where are my presents?!”)

            Sure, it’s more blessed to give; we’ve covered that. But let us not be so maniacally virtuous that we eschew the joy of getting, for that would gyp two parties of very great pleasure – giver and getter both.

            Last post, I reminisced about one of my favorite gifts ever given. Now for a look back on one of my favorite gifts ever received.

            Once upon a time (a couple months ago), in a land faraway (also known as my living room, which we actually call the “big TV room”, but that’s beside the point), I was celebrating my 23rd birthday with my parents, the sister who wasn’t at “Nutcracker” ballet rehearsal, and my BFFAEAE (best friend forever and ever and ever…) by opening aforesaid BFFAEAE’s snazzily-wrapped, very heavy present. Turns out that the box’s weight was due to its containing the deepest desire of my heart. …Apart from international fame as a bestselling author (which would not necessarily be heavy). …And the materiality-slash-availability of my tailor (whose weight we’ll politely leave out of this). …And superpowers (which might or might not be heavy, dependent on the form my power took).

            That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: It was a chain-mail shirt.

            For the sake of context, let it be known that I’ve been lusting after chain-mail since before I hit my twenties. Part of my annual Renaissance Faire tradition had been to stare with blatant yearning at the assemblage of metal links on display in one of the vending areas devoted to the glorious stuff. I wanted so badly to don the shiny protective gear and feel like Aragorn son of Arathorn (what “Lord of the Rings” fan wouldn’t?), but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on such an impractical item. (If only I had a legion of Uruk-hai to battle, but nooooo.) So no chain-mail for me. Until Tirzah hooked me up.

            And did I mention she gave me a hand-sewn cape, too? ‘Cause she did. ‘Cause she’s an angel.

            There was a good deal of grateful carrying-on, that day. Squealing, cheering, whimpering… I’m a little surprised there weren’t actual tears of joy. I went around in my twenty-pound shirt (and cape, and my minstrel beret) for the rest of the afternoon and evening, quickly-wearied shoulder muscles be darned. Every few minutes, I was forced to announce in a strained whisper to the world, “I have a chain-mail shirt.” The world was happy for me. Tirzah got hugged a lot, and I suffered her to poke my arm and beat me up because, what the hey? I had a chain-mail shirt!

            And that, my friends, is gift-getting ecstasy at its most gift-getting ecstatic. I guess every now and then, receiving can be pretty blessed, too.

            Anyone else want to relive the huge hurrah of getting something that blew your mind? The comment section awaits you!

“Halloween”

Does everybody know what today is?! That’s ri-ight! – only one day shy of Allhallowmas, ya-a-ay!

            …Not that people tend to call November 1st “Allhallowmas”, nowadays. I’ve heard it called All Saints’ Day, but I don’t know that it’s celebrated much either way, anymore. But if you look at the word “Allhallowmas”, it’s easy to see how October 31st got its name. What is a “-mas” day, after all, without its “eve” to precede it? (I wave down the calendar at another lovely “-mas”. Looking forward to you, 12/25, as always!) “Allhallowmas” to “All Hallows”, “All Hallows’ Even” to “Hallowe’en”. Why we tend to drop the apostrophe, I’ve no idea; the word looks so much cooler with it.

            Some people adore Halloween. Some people despise it. I’ve always been largely indifferent. To me, October on the wane meant my birthday was drawing near, and I guess I’m just self-absorbed enough to think I matter a wee bit more than a holiday my family doesn’t celebrate. (Mom’s one of the people who despises the day; the demonic overtones, don’t you know.) This isn’t to say that celebrating me didn’t tend to involve a lot of paper ghosts, synthetic spider webs, and other creepy touches, because it did – whichever restaurants we went to for my traditional birthday dinner saw to that. For my sister, who wasted several of her childhood years being afraid of everything, leaving the house anytime between September and November was kind of a nightmare.

            That’s the point of Halloween, many declare: Scaring people. Because apparently, being scared is fun. Up to a point, I’ll agree with this. A tiny dose of the willies can be enjoyable; some of my favorite songs, stories, and movies, growing up, were my favorites precisely because they vaguely crept me out. But I’ve never liked being very scared. My first reading of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” kept me up and fretting all night long. My first viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” will likely be my last, because not only was I up and fretting, I was throwing-up. (The “Van Helsing” movie made me throw-up, too, but it was so awesome and full of Hugh Jackman that I extended forgiveness.) For the sake of the amusing antics of the Winchester brothers, I put up with a couple seasons of the CW series “Supernatural”, but every episode was as good as hardcore Halloween on that show, so I eventually had to either quit cold turkey or kiss non-fretful nights goodbye; I chose the former.

            Others feel that Halloween is less about the spookiness and more about the candy. No complaints from me, there; huzzah for my favorite candies going on sale, say I. Still others prefer to focus on the dress-up factor. My lack of complaint continues; going around in costume is fabulous (particularly, I contend, if one is at a Renaissance Faire). And when both elements unite in trick-or-treating, it’s no wonder kids (both small and less-than-small) are inclined to get excited.

            So, those of you who are planning to mark the day: First of all, a timely tune, to be found here, that’s been stuck in my head since word one of this post. And finally, I wish you a safe, non-demonic, fun and happy All Hallows’ Even!

            …But don’t any of you come knocking on my door dressed up as a typo. No candy for those who cost me a fret-free night’s sleep.

“Homeschool”

When I was a precious tyke of five, or so my mother tells me, I was ready and eager to head off and seek my fortune in the public schooling system. Trouble was, my birthday came particularly late in the year – too late, apparently, for the local schools to accept me until the following year. I wasn’t interested in waiting, and neither was Mom, so she decided “to instruct [me] in an educational program outside of established schools, [specifically] in the home”. In other words, she homeschooled me.

            Since that pivotal day, The People have wanted to know: Did I go to school in my pajamas?

            (Could someone please explain this obsession with getting away with life in one’s pajamas? This is one of many things I’ve never understood about the world.)

            Other FAQs included something along the lines of:

“So… what grade are you in?”

“How do you make friends?”

“Is it weird having your mom as a teacher?”

“Do you wish that you could go to regular school?”

            I’ll start out by putting an end to your slow death by curiosity, informing you that yes, I did sometimes tackle my lessons while wearing pajamas. And I gotta tell ya, it really wasn’t all that. Algebra is algebra, no matter your ensemble. And all else being equal, I’ll usually prefer to be dressed.

            As for the grading system, we barely bothered with it. My classmates (a.k.a. sisters) and I learned new material whenever we’d gotten the knack of the old stuff. The incorporated workbooks, computer programs, and videos might have been aimed at any grade, from that comparable to most other children our respective ages, to high school or college-level students. To simplify life in the world outside, I would generally claim whatever grade matched my age, but it was basically a worthless answer to a silly question.

            …Not as silly a question as the one about making friends, of course. Was I seriously getting asked how I met people by people who had obviously managed to meet me?? I was homeschooled, not a prisoner in solitary confinement. I left the house all the time for lessons of all sorts – dance, gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skating, piano, theater. I joined an orchestra with MYA (acronym, “Midwest Young Artists”). I took tons of park district classes for art, acting, some “fit kids” thing where they ran you up a hill. I went to church. I chatted up kids in the grocery store parking lot. (Seriously, I ended up getting invited to two of that girl’s birthday parties.) Strange but true: You don’t actually have to lock up a child in a classroom full of children their age for three seasons out of four to gain them friends. Socialization doesn’t have to sound like a nightmare.

            Talking of nightmares, you know those kids who want to die of shame after having accidentally called their teacher “Mommy”? Never worried me. Mommy was my teacher, and I forgave her for it. She listened patiently as I sounded out a story, syllable by syllable, and she made mathematical word problems comprehensible. She recorded herself reading my piano instructor’s notes for me when I couldn’t be bothered to decipher cursive writing, ending every directive with the pleasant command, “Turn off the tape, and do that.” She encouraged reading and writing and drawing and viewing edutainment like “Kratt’s Creatures”, “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, and my favorite forever, “The Magic School Bus”.

            Ah, school buses… The real reason that I ever wanted to go to public school in the first place, I’m told, and therefore one of the very few features of public school that ever caused me to feel that I was possibly missing out. School bus rides, field trips to outer space and under the sea and inside a classmate, food fights… my lack in these areas was my only regret. (And having subsequently ridden in a school bus and decided that throwing food everywhere is wasteful and gross, my list of unrealized dreams shortens.)

            I liked being homeschooled; probably would have enjoyed being unschooled, too. (More on unschooling here and also here, for the curious.) And I’m proud to represent (homeschoolers unite!) as a living refutation of all those bizarre stereotypes that would have you believe that homeschoolers are a special brand of uneducated freak.

            …Not denying that I’m a freak, mind you. But I’m thinking that’s mostly genetic. Thanks for everything, Mom.