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Easy there, Cheer Bear.

I have a confession to make.

It dawned on me some time in August, but I haven’t even allowed myself to get all the way through the full thought of it, LET ALONE actually speak it out loud and bring the being of it forth into concrete reality.

I am happy here.

Deliriously, disgustingly, and freakishly so – if not really totally and completely so. (Did that sound like the Lollipop Guild should be singing it? Because I went right to “Lollipop Guild” in my head. Which sort of fits perfectly.  Quelle horreur.)

Just BAM!  There I am, in whatever store or restaurant or brewery or WHEREVER, walking around, greeting everyone and catching up and smiling and waving  and whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith show and shit. (Just kidding, I can’t whistle.  But when I see myself in my head acting like I find myself acting, I totally see me whistling that, so I am going with it.)  If I saw me on the street, I would probably want to trip me, to be honest – at this point my “rah rah hometownieness” is kind of gross.

A few weeks ago while looking through some old things with my parents’ in there basement, I stumbled on this:
image

My sister and I each got one the year the city celebrated their silver anniversary.

My family has a brick in the library sidewalk with the date we moved here and our name engraved into the face. BUT we still call it “the new library,” since some of my fondest memories are of trips to the children’s library in the basement of the little building over in the back of the Garden Center in the old heart of the city.

The American flag we fly outside our home is one that was used in a local memorial to honor the victims of the attacks on 9/11/2001 – my parents got one for each of us.

I have a history here, and I see it connecting to my present.

This weekend is the big annual festival, and I am comically excited to go, and to take Jr and enjoy seeing friendly faces, from past and present, and watch the parade and see the local vendors (and drink some local beers,) and just take it all in with him.  It was always a highlight for me growing up here, and now it will be for him too.  I can’t wait.  Andplusalso –  the event that I feel actually flipped the switch and started me down this road to embarrassing levels of love for my current situation is actually coming up again at the end of the month. When my editor asked if I would like to go again, there was BEYOND zero hesitation; I could not get the “hell yes!” response email sent fast enough.  MAKE ROOM IN THE MINIVAN, fellow mega-subdivision ladies, we goin’ OUT!!  WOOP WOOP!! (Whoa no.)

Yup.

If you see a unicorn pooing out a rainbow traveling north west away from the Valley Highway, it is probably headed over to siphon some of the happiness overload off of me to recharge.  (Seriously, if you know me at all by now, you know I am cringing at my own damn self, so you can join in – I totally get it.)

Maybe they spike the water out here with something.

Not sure – and can’t stop to lament now – it’s food truck night in the ‘hood, and I wouldn’t want to miss seeing everyone and joining in.  Gah – I am so gross.

GO BROOMFIELD!!

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Old. As. Dirt.

This just in, I am ancient.

No really – I am officially an old lady.

I made the horrifying realization today on my way home after Jr’s parent/teacher conference (during which his teacher said he was totally ready for Kindergarten, which sounded like “and he is leaving for college tomorrow” in my ears, so I was feeling the passing of time pretty deeply already.)

2 things happened within the span of maybe one mile that confirmed my lame-old-mom status:

I recently cut the cord with my SIRIUS subscription, so I am kind of a station flipper of late, trying to figure out what stations play what I like.  I flipped to a song a love and was singing my heart out driving down the road, enjoying the sun FINALLY being out after days (and days) of rain (and snow.) Awesome!! The song ended and the station identification came on – KOOL 105.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. It was THE OLDIES STATION. The one we used to beg my dad to turn off when we were young because it was SOOOOOOO lame.

Translation – I am now, SOOOO lame.

At almost the exact moment that this terrible understanding was washing over me, I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed that there was a little black sedan attempting to climb into my back seat. At least that appeared to be what the driver was doing, because the car was so close to the back of me I could see the freckles on the teenage girl’s face as she drove. I looked down to see if (like old ladies do,) I was driving abnormally slow. Nope, 3 miles an hour over the posted limit, totally reasonable.

I glared in my mirror and maintained my speed, not to be pushed into speeding by her presence. She continued to maintain her ridiculously small following distance, senior hat tassle swinging off her review mirror, until the car next to me (also driving normal speed,) turned into a subdivision.   Then she blew by me before swinging back into my lane and into the same turn lane I was heading for. She was going to the high school.

Something SNAPPED – my inner little old lady was shaking her cane over her head on the lawn of my mind and shouting “YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!” I embraced my ancientness.

I snapped a pic of her plate number as we sat in the turn lane. Her eyes shot lightning bolts in her rearview mirror. The light turned green and she tore away, speeding around the corner and into the school parking lot. I ambled by at the speed recommended for the school zone, tootled on home, and did what lame old ladies do in situations like these: I called the school.

Enjoy your chat with the resource officer, young lady.

(Because that is what lame old ladies call young people. Now seriously, get off my lawn. I will be on the back patio bumping the KOOL 105.)

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Did NOT see that coming.

I am a monumentally somewhat cynical person. I know this. I accept this.

So when the chance presented itself for me to attend a local fundraiser modeled after Dancing With The Stars (including prominent local figures paired with dance professionals,) I confess my internal dialogue went right to “um, that’s a little hokey, no?”

But it was presented as an opportunity to attend and then write an article about the evening and the foundation the evening benefits; so off I went in the back of my editor’s minivan, not quite knowing what to expect. Whatever I could have expected, it never could have compared to what I actually found – in the event, and in myself because of it.

It didn’t occur to me that I would see people I knew. Which seems ridiculous to say in hindsight – you were raised here, Keri. You know this town. This town knows you.

I’d forgotten. I had lost that; or maybe thought that all of us had lost that in the passing years. In the warm, genuine hugs and smiles and inquiries of wonderfully familiar faces I remembered again.

Sitting in the dark, surrounded by people who so love this place, people I know, children of people I know, I was overtaken by the sense of community. I hadn’t expected it, and It engulfed me like a tidal wave. I lost my breath.

I Could. Not. Stop. Smiling.  I found it (or rather it found me.) That connection I’d been missing since we moved back. The understanding of where I fit. Of belonging to a place. Of being home.

In that moment, in that space, my heart just swelled up, so fast and so completely full , and broke the internal Grinchy meter of my cynicism.

Oh.

Riding back home in the darkness and drizzle, I looked out that minivan window and suddenly I saw it all again – the bones and the soul of the little hometown I loved so fiercely in my youth. And the good things about what has grown and filled in and taken shape in my absence.

For the first time it didn’t feel like a betrayal to my “Reluctantly Suburban” persona to understand where I fit in the story of my hometown. Or even to be ok with it being my son’s hometown as well.

It didn’t feel like a threat to my love of the city to have a sense of belonging here – not just in my past, but in the present and in our family’s future as well.

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Pocket Park Politics

I can’t lie – there were some, um, “relationship dynamic challenges”  that occurred in the highrise we called home during the majority of our urban days.

You can’t share that many common amenities (and walls,) and never have even a minor disagreement.  Goodness knows there is always that one busybody who LOVES to tattle on the person using the elevator to move furniture without the fire key; and in the city there is bound to be a group of renter kids who seem hell-bent on having one of their Coors Light bottles end up broken in the bottom of the pool if someone doesn’t parent them into less stupidity (yeah that was me,  because don’t jeopardize my pool time.  Like ever.)

Still I have to say that in spite of the barking dogs, squawking parrots, the  occasional waft of weed in the HVAC vents, the creepy dude who threw weird parties on the 2nd floor that STARTED at like 3am, and all of the other little annoyances that cropped up, most folks remained friendly and sort of just let everyone else live their lives without paying too much attention.

In the ‘burbs?  Not so much.

I have distinct memories of my mom leaning on the chain link fence of our childhood back yard, getting (and giving) the news of the neighborhood with the neighbor lady – which person was ticked at which other person for the dog that was going from yard to yard, impregnating the pedigreed masses of the female pooch population  (it really happened – actually our family dog was one of the puppies produced, but I digress,) or WHATEVER the buzz was up and down the block.

There were clicks, and almost fist-fights, and “I heard the Joneses DYED their lawn” type scandals enough to make it easy to understand exactly how the concept for Desperate Housewives came into being.

So last night when Jr and I drove into the subdivision to find a swarm of Police presence, I confess I was rubbernecking all over the pocket park trying to see what I could see.   I attempted to send The Mr out into the road to see if he could shake down neighbors passing by for the dirt (he was in comfy pants already, and having none of it. Party pooper.)

Then it occurred to me – seeing that kind of thing in our old ‘hood would barely have caused a sideways glance as I passed.  We lived in a nice area, but still, police activity was a normal occurrence there.  I might have popped out on to the patio to get a bird’s eye view of whatever was going down while sipping on my martini or something, but the concept of attempting to figure out what was up would never have crossed my mind.

Meanwhile, back in the present, here is “Suburban Keri” plotting to chase down the paper boy next Thursday at the crack of dawn to get a first look at the Enterprise Police Beat column.

Hell I full on tackled The Mr on the patio last summer to keep him from making any noise and alerting the neighbors arguing over a fence with each other to our eavesdropping presence. In contrast,  patio time in the city always involved a polite “here I am on the other side of that sheet metal wall” cough or throat clear so the guys next door didn’t get TOO romantic on the balcony over their late dinner with me practically sitting at the table with  them.

I can’t really figure out where the shift occurred – it seems like there was just so much EVERYTHING going on in the urban heart of it all, that no one really paid attention to almost anything.  Slow things down a bit in the subdivisions and soccer practices, and everyone kind of expects to have the whole damn scoop all the time.

Interesting.

No time to think about it now, I see my neighbor coming up the walk to get the bouquet the florist left with us in their absence…  going to brew some coffee, dig out the Kahlua, and see what’s up around the loop.

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Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse.

Since we can’t do ANYTHING half-ass, even chosing to live in the suburbs, we don’t just live in any subdivision.  We live in a sprawling behemoth of a mega subdivision, made up of lots (and I mean LOTS,) of smaller sections (sub-subdivisions?)  I have no clue what the correct term is, it’s foreign terminolgy to me, and I aim to actively attempt to keep it that way.  I’m convinced The Mr’s Texan upbringing kicked in when we were house hunting and he went with the “bigger is better” mentality when chosing a subdivision. That and the whole thing weaves around a golf course, and his country club upbringing makes him seek out golf courses like I seek a good brunch joint.

So a couple of times a year we get invites not only for events involving our little pocket neighborhood – we are in the smallest of the little sub-subdivisions, just an outer loop and an inner loop around a little “pocket park” as I was informed they are called, (see, you can’t UNlearn these words, people. ::cringe::)    On top of those events, there are also events for the entire ginormous sprawl of mega subdivision.  The two big ones being a 4th of July parade situation that we have avoided for 2 summers running now; and the annual holiday party at the golf course clubhouse.

This year I decided to suck it up and request 3 tickets (yep, it’s ticketed to keep out the riff raff, I guess,) to the latter.  The clubhouse is located midway between The Casa and my parents’ house, and it was a “NeNe Day” for Jr, so I decided I would request the early wave (oh yeah, they have to run the sucker in waves, like starting a race or touring an exhibit or something,) and we could just drop by and he would sit on Santa’s lap for a picture and we could call it a success.

Lol.   Lolololololololol.

Of course a wardrobe crisis took place, since I have no damn clue how to dress for ANYTHING out here, and am fully aware that I am “that one who wears an awful lot of black” to  other moms in the ‘hood.

Also,  it was cold as sin here last week.  I mean COLD.  As in – Keri cried a little during last weekend’s date night when getting into The Mr’s jeep after dinner, due to the dreaded FJS (Frozen Jeans Syndrome,  and don’t pretend you don’t know what it is.  It is hell.)   That kind of cold presents its own wardrobe issues, as you have to be warm in transport, and still able to deal with all the layers you might have to hang on to the entire time you revel. (But I digress. Horribly. As usual. )

Off we went, Jr in his tiny button-up shirt, and me in my casual-but-dressy tunic and completely impractical kicky booties (buried under giant coats, of course.)
The Mr chickened out completely. (Check mark in the “owes me one BIG TIME column, BTW.)

Inside the tastefully decorated clubhouse I pulled Jr off to the side, dislodged him from his winter layers, and stuffed them into my giant purse (hooray for the giant purse.)  I piled my coat on top of his and wedged the straps over my shoulder.

We got greeted and name-tagged and continued in the flow of people through the hall and into the great room.  The scene was one of complete and utter sensory overload – twinkly lights, holiday music, yummy smells rising from the containers of food as it was warmed by the sterno pots beneath the pan on the buffet.  But most of all the movement and noise and joy and bustle of kids.

Lots and lots of kids.

“SANTA!!!!”  Jr had spotted the man of the hour tucked into a corner by a ginormous Christmas tree. I surveyed the surroundings – families were shrugging off piles of coats and digging in to plates of food from the buffet at tables spread throughout the space, the line for Santa was only 2 deep.  I knew the second they all finished their meals, they would queue up for some lap time, so I maneuvered Jr into the line as fast as his 2.5 year old legs would go.  We chatted with the neighbors around us, and watched each child smiling and talking with Santa.   Secretly I was a little concerned that, much like riding the plastic horse at the supermarket or sitting in the airplane/firetruck/car thingy at the children’s haircut place, this was an experience he would be SUPER excited about in theory but totally freaked out by IRL.

However, after a moment of hesitation when his turn came, Jr climbed up on Santa’s lap, and informed him that he would like “presents” and that he was “2 years old” while I snapped pictures as fast as I could in the hope that one of the bajillion shots would be “the one.” (This is the true secret to kid photography – quantity. Take 50 pictures of every event, 3 will probably be keepers.)

Mission accomplished, right?  Except that by this time the yummy smells from the buffet were calling to both of us, and Jr was all “Cicken figgers now?”  Sure, what the hell, chicken fingers now, kiddo.  I steered him through the controlled chaos to the buffet and balanced a plate on my arm while using one eye to select some snacks and the other to watch him as he watched groups of older kids making merry in various ways around the room.   Plate full, I turned my attention to the seating situation. It had filled up completely.  The santa first plan had backfired!  Crap.

“Cickin figger mommy?”  The delightful smell of the plump, warm chicken pieces on our plate was weakening Jr’s toddler sense of reason.  We had to get some food into his tiny face pronto.  I found an out of the way corner and we plopped down on the floor in the glow of a group of battery-powered “candles,” and shared some chicken finger. (BTW – the. BEST. chicken finger. EVAH.  I don’t know what the hell they coated that chicken in, but damn it was tasty.)  Midway through his second finger, Jr caught sight of the cookie decorating station and chucked his chicken in my direction.

“CHRISTMASSSS COOOKEHHHHHH!!!!”  He was on his feet and heading toward the table.  In my haste I grabbed up my coat (spread out to sit on,) put it on, folded the paper plate up around the chicken, and not seeing any other place to put it, stuffed the package in the pocket of my puffy coat. (oh Keri.)

Off we went to the cookie decorating table, where Jr created a masterpiece “for daddy” and then one for himself, which he piled HIGH with green frosting.  I let him go nuts. What the hell, he is having fun, let him sugar it up this once.  I crafted a to-go container for “daddy’s cookie” out of more paper plates, pushed Jr’s coat aside in my purse, and secured the cookie package in the depths of the bag.

By then the seating had started to open up, and there was NO WAY that pile of green frosting was going to be protected by my paper plate constructions, so I asked ” want to eat your cookie here, Smoosh?”  Duh – toddler must. eat. cookie. ASAP.  Good deal.   On our way to a table I grabbed a glass of wine from the bar (Merry Christmas, momma Keri,) and we sat near the tree where Santa was still listening to wishlists of the subdivision kiddos, looking out the window over the golf course with its trees sparkling in white lights.  I watched Jr carefully flip his cookie over in his two little toddler hands, and slowly eat it all up – frosting side down.  (Smart kid.)

He got frosting on his nose.  We giggled.  We watched Santa and looked at the tree and sung “Jingle Bells” softly to each other while the chaos around us faded into a kind of background-y holiday hum.

He was happy, I was happy.  Eventually we piled on our layers and headed back out into the cold night.  It didn’t feel quite so cold as we crunched through the snowy parking lot to the M.U.V.

I survived the mega subdivision holiday gathering.

We came, we saw (Santa) and I came home with a really happy kid.   Not to mention a pocketful of chicken and a Christmas cookie in my purse.

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