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By Shannon Penrod

Yesterday I found myself saying to someone, “I’m so far behind!  It’s mid- September and I don’t even have Jem’s Halloween costume!  It may seem like it’s far away, but Halloween is just around the corner and then seven seconds later it’s Thanksgiving and then it’s just a slow slide into Christmas and New Years!”  While I was ranting about the impending holiday treadmill my blood pressure climbed until I could see my pulse in my left eye.  How did I turn into someone who stresses about holidays months in advance?  I never used to be this way!  I loved the holidays!  Of course that was when I was single and childless.

Back in the old days I could shop on my own terms and didn’t have to have a babysitter or a shopping cart full of distractor toys to occupy a small child while I attempted to find just the right gift.  I remember showing up to holiday parties on time, with clean clothes on and my face fully made-up.  I was rested and full of joie de vivre!  I remember clearly the first holiday season after I became a mother.  I arrived at one party 40 minutes late with vomit in my hair and leaking breasts.  I ate a carrot stick and then fell asleep on a love seat while people reveled around me.  It wasn’t my finest moment.  That was the same holiday season that featured no batteries on Christmas morning, so none of the toys lit up or played music and there was no picture of my child on Santa’s lap that year.  I arrived at the mall too late on Christmas Eve and the line was already closed.  I felt like a total failure.

That’s when I stepped firmly onto the holiday treadmill.  This is the gerbil wheel that tells a mom if she hasn’t started her Christmas shopping by mid September, she’s never going to make it.  It is the anthem that screams “If you don’t get the Durkee Fried Onions now, they won’t have them at Thanksgiving! ”

I remember my mother baking and freezing Christmas cookies in September and October when I was a kid.  Every weekend she would make two kinds, so by the time December rolled around she could throw together a platter of homemade cookies that would make Martha Stewart cry with envy.  All those years that my mother baked the fall away, and I thought she was crazy!  Now I know the truth, she was on the treadmill!

Last year I attempted to get off the treadmill.  We scaled back.  I only opened two boxes of decorations and we didn’t even put all of those up.  I shopped less, gave fewer gifts.  I did almost no baking and we didn’t even get pictures taken.  We didn’t have a party and we scaled back on attending parties.  All in all… it sucked.  There wasn’t any hustle and bustle but there wasn’t much awe and wonder either. 

Now that I am a Mom and a wife I know that part of the joy of having pulled off a holiday extravaganza is the joy of seeing those surprised faces!  Sure, they never fully understand how much work went into getting 22 hot dishes on the table at the same time, or decorating a full house and buying presents for 50 people on a budget of $100!  But they still look happy and cared for and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.  So, I’m on the treadmill this year again.  I already have my teacher gifts and my Toys 4 Tots donations, at this rate, if I can keep it up, I may get to sleep in December.  To all those Moms who make it happen every holiday season ROCK ON!

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By Shannon Penrod

Dear Jim,

Nine years ago today we stood in front of friends and family and took vows that have more meaning to me now than they every could have meant then.  I remember part of our vow was an Irish prayer that said, “You are the last person I want to see before I sleep and the first person I want to see upon waking.”  Honey, it was true then, but it’s so much truer now.  When you asked me to marry you I said, “Yes!” without hesitation, because I knew I loved you and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.  I’d already tried to live without you and I didn’t like that.  What I didn’t know was how truly marvelous you are.  I didn’t know it because time had yet to reveal it.

How could I have known that you were going to be such an amazing father?  I believed it, but the reality is so much better. I couldn’t have known that you were going to love our little boy with a fierceness that takes my breath away.  I couldn’t dream that you were going to be the type of Dad who calls me up from work and says, very seriously, “Honey, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and… we just aren’t videotaping enough.  I just know that some day we’re going to look back and wish we had a camera running 24/7.”  It just takes my breath away how wonderful you are.

The things you do to make that little boy laugh!  Oh my!  Yeah, other people may have Emmys and Oscars for their comedic performances but baby they’ve got nothing on you.  The best laughs I have ever had have been of your crafting.  I can not count the number of times you have made me laugh until I have fallen off the couch, been doubled over clutching my stomach and begging for air.  You funny.  It’s kind of my little secret and I LOVE to watch people who don’t know you realize it.  For years my friends and family thought that because I’m funny you must be the straight man to my humor.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth. I love your sense of humor and I treasure all of laughs we share.  Thank God we have laughed, because we have been through some @#!$!

When I think of what we have been through in the last five years I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or wet my pants.  I’d rather just hold on to you and tell you over and over, “Thank you!”  Thank you for sticking by me, through Autism, through a nervous breakdown, a reality show, three moves, being sued by the school district twice, 2 summers in Southern California with NO AIR CONDITIONING, total financial devastation, IRS hell, a dead landlord with a crazy ex-wife and ever so much more.  Thank you, because looking back on it, it all seems like a really funny adventure now.  That’s because we were in it together.  There was never ever a moment when I thought for even a second you weren’t going to stick it out with me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I can go anywhere and do anything because I know at the end of the night I get to go home with you.  That’s my ace in the hole, right there.

I think back to all of the promises we made nine years ago.  We’ve been able to keep almost all of them.  Yes, a few of our dreams got differed because of a little thing called Autism.  We haven’t been able to do all of the “couple” things we would have loved to.  Even this morning, you’re off to take Jem to Harry Potter Camp, while I’m staying home to tackle the garage in preparation for yet another move next week.  It’s not the big romantic anniversary we would have planned nine years ago.  It may not be what others would choose, but I don’t care.  I want you to know that I still choose you, I still choose us.  I love our life, our love our little family and I love being on this adventure with you.  I love you and I love the way you love me.  I never, ever thought I would have that.  Thank you for making our story a love story.

Happy Anniversary Love!

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By Shannon Penrod

My cardiologist asked me to start playing the Didgeridoo the other day.  Apparently playing the Didgeridoo helps with sleep apnea.  No, I am not kidding and you have not just stepped into the Twilight Zone.  First let’s start with the basics – Didgeriwho?  Didgeridoo!  The Didgeridoo is an ancient Aboriginal musical instrument some even believe it to be the oldest musical instrument.  It is a long tube, that is slightly crooked.  When you blow a raspberry into it a sound emerges that is somewhere between a twang and buzz, with a little bit of a fart noise mixed in.  It sounds bad but it actually is kind of funky.  Check out Crystal Bowersox singing the Beatles, “Come Together”  with…a Didgeridoo.

It turns out that playing this ancient instrument 3 times a day for fifteen minutes each time promotes circular breathing which has a measurable effect in preventing snoring.  The University of Zurich first did a study that was published in the British Medical Journal detailing their study of 25 patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea.  Half of them were given Didgeridoo lessons and the other half just got put on waiting list and miraculously the Didgeridoo learners showed significant improvement in their sleep apnea scores.

Faced with doing a sleep study and having to be hooked to an expensive c-pap machine every night I decided to give the Didgeridoo a try.  It was certainly more fun to pick out than a c-pap machine, I can tell you that.  It came in the mail yesterday and I couldn’t wait to get it out of the box.  It’s beautiful, but harder to do than it looks.  I got one with a rubber mouthpiece and I’m still trying to get passed the fact that it tastes and smells like I’m kissing a tire.  And as for the circular breathing thing…not as easy as it sounds either.  There are exercises to help you work up to it.  I keep telling my noise to breath in while my mouth is blowing out but so far my noise keeps saying, “I don’t think so.”  Rome was not built in a day.

I plan to keep practicing. I figure my best case scenario is that my snoring will improve and my husband and I will get better rest.  My worst case scenario I have a really cool conversation piece that sits in the corner and waits for guest to oooh and ahhh over it.

 

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by  Shannon Penrod

It’s important to have a conversation starter for every situation.  When I meet a woman over the age of 30, I generally ask her if she has kids.  I figure I ‘ve got a 50/50 chance that we’ll have something to talk about from there.  It used to be when I met a guy between the ages of 17-27 I was really at a loss as to how to start a conversation.  What on earth do I have in common with a twenty something male?  Then by accident I discovered the ultimate opener. 

I was on the phone with customer support at Best Buy, my assigned help was a young guy and for what ever reason we had a great deal of down time while he took care of my issue, so we attempted to chat.  He asked me if I played video games.  I laughed and told him that my husband does voiceover work for video games.  I didn’t know that this was the male equivalent of telling a woman that Oprah is a close personal friend (at least what I imagine).  I was instantly popular and he had so many questions I thought I would never get off the phone.  When I told him my husband is the voice of Subzero in the last two Mortal Kombat games I thought he was going to faint.  He stood up in his cubicle, told all of the other twenty something guys that were manning the phones and he let me listen to them cheer!  I had no idea it was such a big deal.  Now I know the power of Subzero.

Now whenever I meet a young guy I open with, “Are you into video games?”  It’s a sure-fire way to ensure my cool factor goes up, while making conversation virtually effortless.  It also makes my husband’s day when I tell him about the fans of his that I meet in my travels.  The new Mortal Kombat comes out on April 19th.  Voicing the role of Subzero is my talented husband:  Jim Miller.  Here is a preview:

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by Shannon Penrod

I wish that life had DVR capability. I would love to be able to rewind just so I wouldn’t have to say, “Did that just happen?”  Last month our garbage disposal broke and our kitchen sinks were all backed up.  The repairman came and “fixed” the problem and then nonchalantly turned to me and said, “Okay it’s all fixed!  Just don’t run any food through the disposal if you want it to keep working!”   He said it completely straight-faced!  I started looking around for Ashton Kutcher, but the guy actually meant it. Now I have a garbage disposal which makes a pretty whirr noise and I’m looking into kitchen counter composters.

I spent the better part of my day today on the phone with our insurance company. I just wanted to find a new primary care physician who is in network but not part of an HMO.  I have a PPO plan so you wouldn’t think this would be a difficult thing.  You would be wrong.  After being hung up on (by accident, which I believed for the first 2 times but the 3rd time had me doubting), being repeatedly shuffled around and feeling my blood pressure rising I was finally told that there are no doctors in network within 75 miles of Los Angeles who are not part of an HMO.  Seriously?  Really?  So why are we are paying extra to have a PPO while being held to HMO rules?  Her answer?  “Because that’s the plan we sold you.”  Ahhhh!  Well, don’t I have huevos rancheros all over my face?

Then of course there was the real kicker.  I asked my husband last night if he would do something for me.  In all fairness I have to admit that it was no small favor, but one that I could not do myself as it involved heavy lifting.  My wonderful husband looked at me, paused and said, “Sure.  I’ll do that.”  He said that, but there was subtext.  “What?” I said.  He hesitated.  I pushed… because I’m stupid like that.  And then he said it….”I’ll do it.  I don’t really want to, but I’ll do it.”   Really?….As soon as he said it, he knew he’d really stepped in it.  I could see him desperately trying to think of someway to save it. There was no saving it, of course.  I smiled sweetly at him and told him that I really appreciated his honesty.  He coughed uncomfortably while in his head I’m sure he was calculating  the bus fare to Siberia.  I told him how much more I was going to appreciate the favor, simply by virtue of knowing that he didn’t really WANT to do it.  And that since it was such a meaningful lesson that I would make sure in the future to let him know ALL of the things that I do for him that I don’t really want to do. Then I started to list them.  At this point I have to tell you that it got so ugly so fast that we actually started laughing and then couldn’t stop laughing.  We laughed until our stomachs hurt.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rewind whenever we want?  There are a few moments that I’d really like to watch one more time, because seeing really is believing.

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By Shannon Penrod

I claim to be a smart woman, and yet sometimes I can be incredibly stupid.  I was struck by this earlier in the week.  We were getting ready to go to Disneyland.  We are annual pass holders.  It is our one extravagance.  We don’t go to the Bahamas, or vacation in Cozumel.  Once a month we do to Disneyland.  It’s the vacation that works for us while we’re recovering our son from Autism.  We always have a great time and I always say that I never love my husband more than I do while we are at Disneyland.  Unfortunately, the hearts, flowers and warm fuzzy feelings do not extend to the getting ready phase of the Disneyland experience.

Everytime we get ready to go to Disneyland it is a minefield or frustration, resentment and miscommunication.  You know the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Color me crazy, because for years I have been running the same minefield and wondering why I’m so miserable. 

Here is our typical scenario, try and figure out where I go wrong every time.  First, when I get up I go out to the kitchen in my fuzzy slippers and I start simultaneously packing lunches and fixing breakfast.  While I am doing this I am either loading or unloading the dishwasher in hopes of coming home to a house that is not a total disaster.  Then I start to pack the bags.  There is a bag for the car ride there, and a bag for the car ride home, there is a bag for the actual amusement park and a bag of warm clothes in case it gets cold.  While I am getting the bags ready I am also getting my son up and laying out his clothes.  My husband is taking a shower and getting himself dressed.  It looks like everything is going so smoothly and I begin to pat myself on the back and tell myself that this time will be different.  That is the moment that it all slides in the toilet.

My freshly showered and perfectly dressed husband sits down to eat breakfast and innocently asks me when I think we can hit the road.  I look down and realize that everything and everyone is ready, except for me.  I am still in the fuzzy slippers and my nightgown with my hair looking like I’ve stuck my finger in a light socket.  Now I get defensive.  I start talking about how much work I’ve done getting us ready.  My husband is patient.  He asks if there is anything he can do.  There isn’t.  I’ve already done it all!  I look at his perfectly coiffed hair and fantasize about hitting him in the head with a frying pan.  We’re off to a great start.

This is made exponentially worse by the fact that it takes me a half hour to get ready, during which time my husband sits on the couch, taps his foot on the floor and checks the time every 30 seconds and sighs disapprovingly.  He denies this, like any intelligent male would.  But it’s true.  Eventually I abandon my preparations and run harried out the door, feeling discombobulated and unprepared despite the fact the car is packed as if we are going to war in a foreign country and could be gone for weeks.  The entire experience is not complete until 10 miles down the road my husband asks me if I’ve remembered to bring the passes.  I give him the look of death and the dance is done.  We can enjoy the rest of the day.

This was exactly what happened the other day. Only I finally found myself asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”  I want to be mad at my husband for getting himself ready.  But it really isn’t a crime.  It’s just something I don’t do for myself, which breeds resentment.  Then came a huge epiphany that if I got myself ready first,  there might be something left for my husband to do when he was ready.  I could actually give myself permission to get myself ready and then he could help me to pack the lunches and the bags! I know, it’s so simple it’s stupid.  But it honestly never occurred to me that I was doing things in the wrong order. 

When I was single and childless I always got myself ready first, because there was no one else to get ready.  I remember when things changed.  Jem was probably 10 weeks old and I had to go to a baby shower.  I got myself ready and then started dressing him and then he earped all over me.  My hair, my dress…all decorated in lovely baby puke.  I looked like something out of a horror movie and I smelled like a cheese factory gone awry.  I had to get in the shower and start over.  After that I always got him ready first.  And I have kept doing that even though it has ceased working, he dresses himself and only rarely throws up anymore.  Time to change the habit.

Tonight we are going to a Clippers game, and I am not going to pack a single thing until I am completely ready.  I am talking full hair and make-up.  And if the snack bag for the car ride home doesn’t get packed, at least I’ll look good, and maybe the resentment police can have a night off from my marriage!

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