Monday, August 15, 2016

We Are Who We Are (or: Sutt Hates Pink Hair)

On my way home from picking up new classroom keys on campus today, I stopped at Kroger to put away some shopping carts.  I do this occasionally because I can count it as a Good Deed For The Universe and (bigger reason) because I'm OCD and hate seeing shopping carts left all willy-nilly around a parking lot.  Oh, by the way, if you are one of those people who do not return their carts or put them away in the cart corral, STOP READING NOW BECAUSE WE CANNOT BE FRIENDS.  That shit is the height of laziness, and I just can't take it.

Anyway, as I was gathering up carts, I started thinking about my kids and how it doesn't even occur to them to NOT put the cart in the proper place when we are finished with it at the store.  I was mentally high-fiving myself when my brain moved onto a conversation I had had with Sutton yesterday morning while watching "What Not To Wear" before school.  Most mornings, he and I have time to just hang out and catch up a bit on life every morning after Belly is gone and before he has to go catch the bus, but every now and then when active thought is too much to handle (neither of us is a morning person, so this happens from time to time) I will flip on the tv and we'll watch a few minutes of whatever happens to be on and talk about that instead.  This was one of those mornings.

The show that day featured a tiny little Asian girl, 23-years old, who had a bad habit of dressing like a male hobo from the 1950s.  Sort of like a homeless character on "Mad Men".  Since I had never seen "What Not To Wear" before and only knew of it from commercials, I don't know much about the designers, but they did a pretty decent job of taking this cute young lady and making her look adorable and fashionable and all that stuff that is the point of makeover shows.  When they got to her hair makeover, they decided to take her long, bleached-platinum blond hair and shape it up, give her  bangs, and dye it hot pink.  Sutton found this very displeasing. The conversation went something like this:

Sutt:  Well, they made her clothes look good, but WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT TO HER HAIR?
Me:  What do you mean?  Give her bangs?  Yeah, I'm not a big fan of those bangs either.
Sutt:  No.  What are bangs?  I mean the PINK part.  I do NOT like hot pink hair.
Me:  Is it because it's pink, or do you mean, like, any weird color?
Sutt:  ANY weird color.  I don't like hair that doesn't look like hair.  IT ISN'T NATURAL.  PEOPLE AREN'T SUPPOSED TO HAVE PINK HAIR.

I was kind of surprised to hear Sutt's thoughts on this, (although I shouldn't be, because I have learned that although you have to drag them out of him, the kid has incredibly strong opinions on EVERYTHING, he just keeps them close to the vest)  mostly because I figured that, being a 10-year-old boy, he hadn't put much thought into the new vibrant hair color trends, but also because I didn't realize Sutt was so judgmental.  Then I thought, but wait-- is that being judgmental, or just having a preference? I CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE.  And then I thought-- if he's being judgmental, where did it come from?  Are B and I judgmental?  (I don't think we are, and if we are, we definitely don't go around saying it out loud.   But then, neither did Sutt.)

A Medium once told me (yeah, you read that right) that our personalities are only so much the result of nature OR nurture, but some of it just comes from us being the Soul that we are.  It doesn't matter what DNA our parents passed down to us or where and how they raised us, we just ARE the Soul that God created.  Sometimes I think about that when I look at my kids and I think, "Whoa."

It is my biology or my upbringing or Jesus that makes me need to return shopping carts compulsively?  Who or what makes Sutt prefer non-pink hair?  How did any of us become what we are?  I can't answer any of those questions, but I can tell you-- it's something I'm thinking about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

More Conversations With My Family

I was cleaning out my blog "Drafts" folder, and found this one that I actually wrote last November, but never published.  In honor of my friend Marissa, who pointed out that my blog is becoming a self-help book (blog?), I am publishing it as proof that, despite my introspection, the McPhails are still.....well, the McPhails, and we still need all the help (self or otherwise) we can get.

These all took place this week, and are excellent glimpses into what LIFE AS A MCPHAIL is like.

1.  Between Me and Blaker:

B:  Did you know that Neal's dad got rid of his alpacas?
H:  WHAT?  Why would anyone lucky enough to have an alpaca get RID of it?  HE DIDN'T EVEN ASK IF WE WANTED DIBS.
B:  I think it was something to do with it not being lucrative.
H:  I don't need a LUCRATIVE alpaca.  I'm happy with a regular one.
B:  I know, right?
H.  We have a GREAT yard for alpacas too.
B:  Yeah.  Because it's hilly.  Like Argentina.
H:  And there's even that little space between the neighbor's fences that we could have used as a corral.  Or a naughty pen.  ALPACA, YOU'VE BEEN AN ASSHOLE.  GET IN YOUR NAUGHTY PEN!
B:  They still have their fainting goats.
H:  NOT SOLD.  I want the alpaca.
B:  I'll talk to Neal Senior.

2.  Between Me and Sutt

H:  Has anyone wished you a Happy Hanukkah yet?
S:  No.
H:  Me neither.  Losers.
S:  We don't celebrate Hanukkah.
S:  Somebody at school wished me Happy KwanzaChristmaKkuh.
H:  What the hell is that?
S:  I don't know.  He said he was covering all his bases.  Do we even celebrate KwanzaChristmaKkuh?
H.  Do you ever remember us celebrating something called KwanzaChristmaKkuh?
S:  That's not the one where you plant trees, right?
H:  Um, no.

3. Between Me and Belly

B:  (bopping around the house in a Santa hat)  Oh the weather outside is....(pause)....sunny and seventy-five degrees, and a fire would be delightful, but since we've no place to go, LET IT SNOW LET IT SNOW LET IT SNOW.
H:  That's beautiful, Bells.
B.  Thanks.  Do you think there's any chance it will snow this year for Christmas?
H:  Well, we have the air conditioner on and Sutt's outside right now playing in shorts where I'm making sure he drinks water every hour so he doesn't have a heatstroke, so....yes?  Definitely snow for Christmas.
B:  Yay!  I can't wait!

4.  Between Me and Sutt:

H:  Okay.  I just need to run into the store and buy some mesh to make a garland, then we can leave.
S:  FINE.  I want to go home.
H:  We'll be fast, I promise.  Here it is.
H:  No it's not.  IT'S MESH.
S:  No, it's tulle.  I KNOW WHAT TULLE IS, MOMMY.
H:  You're a 10-year-old boy.  You SHOULDN'T know what tulle is.
S:  But I do.  And that's tulle.  Not mesh.
H:  Sutt, this is MESH.  Tulle is thinner and fluffier.  See how this is kinda wiry?
S:  Yeah.  I guess.
H:  Feel it.
S:  Well, it LOOKS like tulle?  Why would they make two things that look just alike and call them different things?  AND CAN'T YOU JUST USE TULLE?
H:  They don't.  And no.  I can't.
S:  (deep sigh)  FINE.  I need some gold beads.
H:  Gold beads?  Why?
H:  What are you decorating?
S:  MY ROOM.  FOR CHRISTMAS.  Geez, Mommy.  I put my stuff up and I thought it would look really nice if I had some gold beads.
H:  Okay.  That's weird, but....okay.  I have some leftover red beads that I used to put on the Christmas tree if you want those.  They're in a box at home.
S:  Nope.  Gotta have gold or they won't match.
H:  You're wearing Carolina blue basketball shorts and a bright green shirt.  Since when do you care about matching?
Now we all see why I read so many self-help books.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Crushing Zen

Today I bought a cactus.  Well, he's not actually a cactus, per se, but he IS a succulent, which I think is maybe LIKE a cactus, but just on a broader scope.  Like if I bought a Snickers bar but I called it a lollipop, and even though they aren't the same thing they are both candy.  Anyway.  I was at Home Depot perusing the succulents because I needed something super tiny (and difficult to kill) for this cool new teacup planter Zach and Shawna gave me for my birthday and trying to be all IN THE MOMENT (we'll get to that later) when this man asked me if he could look at my shelf (as in, the same shelf I was looking at).

I think the conversation went something like this:

MAN:  Can I stand here and look at your shelf?
ME:  Sure.  Help your-shelf.
MAN:  Oh!  Clever!  (I swear, he really said "clever."  And he was all jovial and such, which all kind of made me love him, which is a totally unusual reaction because normally jovial people just piss me off.)
ME:  Yep.  That's me.
MAN:  Are you looking for a new houseplant?
ME:  Yeah, but I don't know exactly what kind.  I figure it will speak to me when I see it and then I'll know.  That's how I operate with plants and pets.  In the meantime, I'm just standing here staring them all down.
MAN:  Well, that IS kind of the point of shopping.
ME:  I guess.  Are you looking for a new houseplant too?
MAN:  Oh, no!  I'm not shopping for anything.  I just like to putter around and see what's out there.  Every new thing I see adds joy to my life!

Um.  Okay.  Haley out.

At this point, I picked out a plant and fled HD because 1) I needed to go to Kroger and buy cucumbers; and 2)  This guy was starting to get on my nerves and it really freaks me out when people use the word "putter."  Plus, I had a lot to do.  I had already been rushing around all day long-- cleaning and laundering and exercising and running errands.  My brain is always consumed with the NEXT THING THAT HAS TO BE DONE, which is exactly how it had been all morning.  Knowing that I'm this way, I couldn't clear my head of what this guy had said about how he was just out strolling around HD, checking shit out.  WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?

Later, when I got home, I told B about my conversation with the Home Depot guy and pointed out again, WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?  After taking a moment to consider, B informed me that anybody has time for that if they want to take the time.  "NO.  THEY DON'T," my brain screamed.  And even if they did, I decided to argue that they didn't, for principle, because that's what I like to do occasionally.  (I also think that when I do bother to argue for principle or any other reason, B should just concede and bow to my opinion because most of the time I don't give a shit about anything enough to argue with anyone about it.  Some people may see this as me being agreeable, but it's mostly just me being lazy.)

However, when I was lying in bed that night, trying to go to sleep, I kept thinking about what Blaker said and kind of realized his point.  Nearly every minute of my day I spend trying to get stuff done and trying to be efficient.  I think part of me does this because I'm naturally kind of jittery and hate to sit still.  I think part of me does this because if I'm busy, I don't dwell as much on things that make me sad.  And I think part of me does this because I just have a lot to do.  Regardless of the reason, even before I met the Home Depot man I would occasionally feel like I was missing out on my own life because I spend all of my time going going going and none of my time enjoying enjoying enjoying.  Even the things that are meant to be decadent, exist to be pleasurable, I usually do "efficiently."  I don't really have a glass of wine and relax, I have a glass of wine while I cook and clean.  I don't just watch tv, I watch tv while I make a grocery list and paint my nails and put stuff in the calendar on my phone.  I am the very definition of multi-task.  I am the very antonym of fun. Or at least that's how I feel most of the time. 

So, I decided to work on this.  The first thing I decided to do was to try to be more patient in situations where I couldn't really control time.  Just be IN THE MOMENT.  I looked for an opportunity, and one arose the very next day.  I needed to return a Redbox movie on my way home from the gym but when I got to the machine someone was already using it.  And it wasn't just SOMEONE.  It was my REDBOX WORST NIGHTMARE KIND OF SOMEONE.  Specifically, a teenage girl, deep in conversation on her phone complaining about some friend who who liked some guy who everybody knew liked some other girl, languidly scrolling through every single movie on the screen.  You could almost see the rudeness wafting off of her in waves, like heat does on asphalt.  As I took my place in line behind her (holding the disc I needed to return in plain sight and hoping for the best) she glanced up at me with her dead-eyed-teenage-girl-zombie stare (trust me, I taught high school-- I know this stare well) and went right back to scrolling through movies.  SHE WASN'T EVEN LOOKING AT THE SCREEN MOST OF THE TIME.  My first instinct was to throat-punch her.

I was fine.  IT was fine.  I could do this.  I could be Zen as a motherfucking Buddhist while this *ahem* lovely young lady took her time.  Following all the meditation rules I had frantically looked up on the Internet (after I had given up on sleeping the night before), I focused on my breathing.  I considered the temperature of the air on my skin.  I relaxed my facial muscles.  I contemplated all the different ways I could bring her pain while I taught her that WHEN SOMEONE IS RETURNING A MOVIE YOU MOVE YOUR ASS ASIDE AND LET THEM FUCKING DO IT IF YOU AREN'T ACTIVELY CHECKING YOUR MOVIE OUT.  Shit.  This wasn't working.

Maybe I needed to save my Zen for another time.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I need to slow down.  Probably, a lot of us need to slow down.  I need to learn to be in the moment and relax, instead of spazzing out because some asshole is putting me ten minutes behind schedule on whatever I've got happening that day.  I'm going to kill myself with unnecessary stress.

Since that day, I've had a few moments of Nirvana when I was actually able to pull my shit together and revel in a few euphoric moments without worrying about the next thing I need to be doing-- dripping sweat during a hard workout when the endorphins kick in, kissing Sutt on the cheek and realizing if I do it with my eyes closed it ALMOST feels the same as it did when he was a baby and I lived to kiss his fat little cheeks, dropping everything when I come in the door just to pet Poe because he's just so excited to see me, trying on prom dresses with Belly because she's big enough now to fit into juniors formal wear and I'll be damned if spinning around in a dressing room in sequins isn't one of the funnest things ever.  You know--the good stuff.

I still have a lot of slowing down to do, and a lot of forgiving myself for not getting as much accomplished that will have to happen before I can really get on board with being IN THE MOMENT.  But, barring being eaten by a shark or hit by a bus in the near future, I have the time to work on it.  I'll have to be vigilant. I'll definitely fail A LOT.  But every time I don't, I think this world will hand me a beautiful sliver of peace that I didn't have before.  And that will be my reminder to keep on slowing down.  That will be another moment to savor.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Which Way Do I Go?

I think all of us reach a time at some point in our lives where we are just face-slammed with change.  Though I know that change is constant and is always happening around us, I think the amount of change we are dealing with at any given time varies a great deal.  Sometimes, changes are slight and trickling, like a drizzly day.  But other times--well, other times you are in a Change Monsoon.  Those times when our circumstances or ourselves are so overloaded with change that waking up every single day seems weird as hell because there's so much happening that you can't even keep up with it all.  From my observations, people seem to handle this occurrence in one of two ways.  Some people thrive when their worlds are all akimbo, and draw energy from all the motion around them.  Some people tuck and roll and just try to hang in there until the world stops spinning and they can scramble to regain some semblance of their foothold on their lives.  My best friend, Ray, is the former, while I am much more of the latter.

I've been tucking and rolling and scrambling a lot.  Still am.

This past year, maybe year-and-a-half, has felt a lot like someone carefully scooped up my neat, tidy little life, settled it gently in my Ninja blender, hit the HIGH button, and wandered off.  For a year and a half.  Needless to say, I'VE BEEN MIXED UP REAL GOOD, UNIVERSE.  THANKS FOR THAT.  (Look how positive that sounds.  YOU CAN ALREADY TELL I'VE CHANGED, CAN'T YOU?)

I've written a lot in the past year, but it has mostly been in my journal or in letters to friends.  I haven't blogged much because I've been at an impasse with myself.  Part of me knows that some mystical, invisible chapter of my life has come to a close and feels that regarding Starrtrippin', I'm kind of just done.  I haven't had any desire to say much to anyone. I don't care if anyone reads what I write.  I don't really care what anyone else is doing.  I don't even use Facebook very often because the artificiality and the negativity make me feel like my soul is drowning.  (Yeah, I know.  B would tell me to "save the drama for my llama," but that's just HOW I FEEL.)   And it's just not important to me anymore.  More than anything, it all feels silly.

I started a new chapter somewhere.

Blaker pushes me to keep blogging, just because he knows that my brain appreciates the creative outlet.  But if I'm going to keep doing that, I think I'm at a turning point.  I think things are going to have to head in a new direction, because somehow, a while back, I turned in a new direction without even realizing it, and I'm too far gone down that new path to come back.  So, what to do?  Old blog, new tricks?  New blog, new me?  No blog, keep giving the collective world the cold shoulder?

My brain has so many things to say.  I just don't know where/how/to who.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


We're sitting at the table having dinner, and I notice the title of one of Belly's library books stacked on the island bar stool.

Me:  Hey, Bell.  Your book is called SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN.  Do you know what that means?

Belly:  Yeah, it's one of the PRETTY LITTLE LIARS books.  They're all named after games they used to play when they were younger.

Me:  Like, HOW young?  I mean, aren't they teenagers in the books?  Is there one called SPIN THE BOTTLE?  Because Seven Minutes In Heaven is a make-out game.

Belly:  EEEWWW.  That's so gross.

Me:  You aren't making out with anybody, are you?  I mean, obviously not right now because you're eating dinner, but I mean, in general.  BECAUSE YOU AREN'T ALLOWED TO MAKE OUT WITH PEOPLE UNTIL YOU ARE 18.

Belly:  I'm not making out with anybody, Mommy.  Boys are stupid.

Me:  We'll still love you if you're a lesbian, Bell.  But you still can't make out with anybody until you're 18.


Me:  So, I can't remember how you choose your partner-- maybe you spin a bottle in that one too?  But whoever you land on you have to take into the closet for 7 minutes and kiss and stuff.  YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY THAT GAME, BELLY.

Belly:  I DO NOT want to play that.  But you know what we COULD play?  Tonight?  SPIN THE BOTTLE, HUGS EDITION!!!  It's a family game!

****We all excused ourselves from the table and immediately abandoned Bell.  Don't nobody want no SPIN THE BOTTLE, HUGS EDITION, yo.  

Lesson:  I love verbal sparring, and I usually win.  But I'll admit, I was bested on that one.  Bell shut me down with Spin the Bottle, Hugs Edition.  I concede my defeat.  I hate hugs.


B and I are hanging out in my sitting room, watching tv before bed.  Please note that nothing regarding ancestry or bloodlines was any part of what we were doing.  We were watching "The Walking Dead" for God's sake.

Me:  OH MY GOODNESS.  Did I tell you that I found out, like, two years ago that I'M NOT IRISH?  I'M SCOTTISH?  I think I forgot to tell you.

B:  (Completely unperturbed):  How do you know?

Me:  Because I researched my last name and family line.  My line of McCoys doesn't come from Ireland, we come from Scotland.  AND I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW.  But then I called Zach (my brother) and said, "ZACH, WE AREN'T IRISH," and he said, "Yeah, I know.  We're Scottish." AND NOBODY EVER TOLD ME.

B:  Okay.  (Trying to un-pause the tv.  I block him.)

Me:  Don't you even know what this means?

B:  You're Scottish?

Me:  Yes, but you're Scottish too.  WE MIGHT BE COUSINS AND NOT EVEN KNOW.

B:  Maybe.  (Still trying to watch tv.)  Probably not.

Me:  And I don't even want to BE Scottish!  I hated being Irish, and I wasn't even Irish!  But I don't want to be Scottish either!  I want to be a Viking.  Vikings are BADASS.  You see them on tv in their tiny Viking boats with the waves splashing on them and they're rowing like total BEASTS and then they go pillage and steal shit and kill everything in their path.  EVERYBODY respects a Viking.

B:  (Contemplating, but clearly wishing I would shut the hell up)  Scots are badass, too.  Haven't you ever seen "Braveheart?"

Me:  YES, I'VE SEEN "BRAVEHEART,' WE OWN THE DVD.  But blue face-paint and a goddamn skirt is NOT the same as stealing an entire town's livestock and then burning it to the ground after you rape all their women!  Didn't you notice how nobody was afraid of Braveheart until he put on the face paint and proved himself in battle?  People feared Vikings FROM THE BEGINNING.  They didn't even need face paint.  They just rolled up and people were like, "OH SHIT, IT'S THE VIKINGS."  The Scots were nearly wiped out by the English on several occasions, and when they weren't getting killed off in British civil wars they were starving to death.  THOSE THINGS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO A VIKING.

B:  Because they weren't in Britain.

ME:  No, because they such badasses.

B:  (Manages to resume tv despite my mad blocking skills.)

ME:  I'm definitely a Viking in spirit.

Lesson:  Nobody wants to argue history with me after I've had a couple of glasses of wine.


Walking along the trail by the Savannah River next to Sutt, enjoying the lovely spring weather.

Me:  Hey, Sutt.  If I wanted right now, I could totally hip check your ass right into the river.  AND NOBODY BUT ME WOULD EVER KNOW.

Sutt:  Yes, they would.  People would notice I was missing.

Me:  NOPE.  When T or C came to the door looking for you, I would tell them you were at N's house.  Then when N came, I would tell him you were at T's house.  Then when they all came together, I would tell them you were playing video games upstairs and didn't want to come outside.  NOBODY WOULD EVER KNOW.

Sutt:  That part's probably true.  But you couldn't do that anyway.  I'm too fast.

Me:  (Hip checking him lightly, to prove my point.)  See.  I just did.  YOU DON'T EVER WANT TO CROSS ME, SON.

Sutt:  (Moving to my other side, where there is much more trail between him and the river.)  There, now you can't.

Me:  I can.  I hope you know how build a raft.  And it's going to be tough to do while you're flailing your way downstream in the Savannah River.  You'll need sticks and cordage.

Sutt:  Actually, bamboo would work better.  And I already know about the cordage from watching "Naked and Afraid."

Me:  I hope some random kayaker sees you out there and rescues you, or you'll be toast.  How are you at fire-building?  You're gonna need a fire on your raft so you can boil your river water to drink so you don't catch river dysentery while you're waiting to get rescued.


Me:  You say that now, but once you start having explosive diarrhea from river dysentery, you'll be wishing you had listened to your Mom and started a fire on your raft to boil your water before you drank it.

Sutt:  (Deep sigh.)

Me:  Aren't you glad I'm your Mom and have so much good advice?

Sutt:  (Shakes head.  Rolls eyes.)

Lesson:  "Naked and Afraid" is an important survival tool.  I just saw where the season premiere is March 13.  Discovery Channel.  You're welcome.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sixty-Three Candles

I never knew anybody who could roll with the punches like my Dad.  He had what could easily (and eloquently) be described as the shittiest luck on the planet, and he still got up every single day, pulled on his hat, and kept on keeping on.  In the thirty-one years I had with him, I don't even think I ever heard him complain about anything.  I remember asking him once, about a month before he died, "Daddy, aren't you angry?  Don't you feel like this is so unfair?"  And he shrugged and said that he always thought of life as being like a book that you haven't read before-- you never know what's going to happen next, you just turn the page and think, "Oh, hell, I didn't see that coming" and keep on reading.

I think he just gave me the book analogy because he was trying to give me something I could relate to.  Dad was awesome like that.

Looking back to this past year, full of changes, many of them hard and scary, I realize that although I've done the best I could, I haven't rolled with the punches all that well.  As a matter of fact, you know that British saying "Keep Calm and Carry On"?  I once saw a sign styled in that same way that instead said "Now Panic and Freak Out."  That's really much more my style.  (Side Note:  I was thinking about this the other day.  B and I have quite a few friends who are doctors, and I was considering what a horrible doctor I would make.  Not only do I hate blood and science and germs, but IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY I would be curled up in the corner with my eyes covered singing Journey songs to myself because that's what calms me down-- 80s power ballads and tight spaces.)

Today is my Dad's birthday.  He would have been sixty-three years old.  And it has only taken me seven years (obviously, I mature emotionally at the speed of light) to get to a place where to honor his memory, I realize the best thing that I can do is to emulate the positive qualities that he had.  Patience.  Kindness.  Acceptance.  Strength.  So amidst all that seems to be falling apart within myself, that's what I woke up this morning hoping to do.  And I'm trying.  No rage, no bitterness.  I was raised better than that.

This year has had some good in it too.  I saved the first email I got from the Registrar at my college calling me "Professor McPhail" because it made me laugh and would have made my Dad so proud.  He probably would have printed it out and hung it on the bulletin board in his office, because that's the kind of thing he did.  I thought of him every time Sutton scored a basket at one of his games on Saturday mornings.  Every time Belly came home with some crazy-good new artwork she had created in Advanced Art Club.  When Blaker built Sutton a handmade, custom UNC desk for his room.  Whenever I saw my brother hold his daughter.  Each time a plane flew over.  I keep him with me always.  He's there to cheer us on.

And through the tough times, the days when whatever I turn the page and what I see is scary and hard and completely unexpected?  I've learned to keep him with me then too.  And I do the best I can to keep calm and carry on.  That is how I keep him alive in this world.  Because I've learned there is no making sense of it all, life isn't always fair, you never know what the next chapter brings.  You just take a deep breath, and keep on reading.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.