10 of the 40 (or 44) Moments of My Life

In an effort to move the old stuff over from my last blog address, and archive the important ones, I’m reposting the series of blog posts I put together for my 40th birthday. I may get brave enough to add 4 more by the end of January when I hit the big 4-4 but we will have to see. In the meantime, I think these ones are some of my best work.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 9, 2011

10 of The 40 Moments of my Life

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately so when that happens I often think of witty, interesting, thought provoking things I can blog about. Knowing I wanted to do something about turning 40, I decided that I would compile a list of the 40 most important or memorable moments of my life. Then I thought that would probably be a really long blog and people would lose interest after about 10. So I decided I would break it up into 4 entries over the next few weeks as I countdown the last days before I hit the big 4-0. Some of this will be funny, some thoughtful and some sad, but as I’ve come to learn lately, this is what life is; a combination of all of these things sprinkled across the lifespan.

3rd grade
Right Before the Hair Pulling Incident
Mrs. Christensen’s 2nd grade class

1. My Birth – While I don’t remember it, I cannot downplay its importance in the scheme of things. The fact that I was born into this sometimes crazy, often infuriating family has shaped the very core of who I have become. And believe it or not, I would not change a thing. Although, I may change their personalities.

2. The Day I Pulled My Sister’s Hair Out –  I was about 4; she was 18 months old. Anyone who knew us as small children can attest to the fact that I was the docile one. She was a little lunatic; nicknamed Gunkaberti and Cookie Monster. I still remember that day. She was pestering me, following me down the hall. The hair that had alluded her for the past 18 months had finally begun to grow in; a spotty mess of black kinky Ciliberti hair. While I do not remember exactly what sent me over the edge, I do seem to remember turning around, grabbing the top of her head and taking hold of the small tuft of hair that had begun to form. With all of my might, I tore it out. Just like that. And then the shit hit the fan. She was screaming, my mother was screaming. Some of that could be a memory born out of a story that is told and retold over time. What is a clear memory for me is laying in a dark bedroom crying, positive, as my father entered the house that I would be beat. But I wasn’t. Secretly, I think my parents couldn’t believe it took me that long to lash out against Gunk.

3. The Day I Learned to Swim – I was deathly afraid of the water. My mother had tried in vain to teach me to swim. I kept a death grip on her neck, convinced I would die. She sent me to swim lessons at the YMCA in Wilmington. The teacher instructed the class to, on the count of 3, go underwater as a group. One, two, three and they all went under as I waited with my head above water, never realizing that my dry hair would be a dead giveaway. Later, they forced us off a diving board with a styrofoam bubble strapped to our backs. I still remember screaming underwater, eyes wide open. My mother let it go shortly thereafter. It was about 2 years later, at about 6 years of age that I clung to the side of my neighbor’s pool as he and my father had a conversation that did not include paying any attention to me. And then I pushed off the side of the pool and began to swim. Simple as that, with no one even looking. My parents built a pool a few years later.

4.The Day My Sister Bought My Parents the Original VCR – My oldest sister is 14 years older than me and was married when I was 5 years old. For Christmas that year, she and her husband bought my parents the original VCR, priced at $1200!! It came equipped with a video camcorder that required a tripod and a slew of wires attached to the unit. The first tape my parents ever owned was Patton, which cost about $80. My father enjoy throwing back a few and then watching the speech Patton gives with the American flag serving as a backdrop. My father used to drag us into the living room and make us listen to that speech, which if I’m not mistaken, is strewn with profanity. The camcorder was used for many years, capturing Christmas mornings, an unfortunate slip and fall and the news productions me, my sister and our friends were known to do. Unfortunately, we lost those tapes when my mother’s house burnt down in 1995.

5.Our many road trips to Disney World – I have no idea how my father managed to do it. Six kids, a homemaker wife and his own businesses. I think we did Disney about 3 times before my father’s death when I was 11. And we drove each time. My mother refused to fly, so we would pack up the Buick Riveria (never owned a station wagon) and the 4 younger kids (once it was just 3 of us) would do the 2 day road trip down I-95. We took turns sitting up front – no seat belts, of course. It was usually over Easter break and I think we incorporated Ft. Lauderdale, where my grandparents lived in the winter, into our trips. And I don’t remember there being such a thing as sunscreen either.

6. Educational Vacations – Unless we went down to Sea Isle City for a week at my uncle’s house (who I found out around age 10 was not really my uncle but instead a close family friend), every vacation incorporated some kind of educational or historical focus. Outside of Disney (of course Disney is educational), my father insisted that we visit the fort at St. Augustine in Fla., the Wright Brothers Museum, Williamsburg, Gettysburg, etc. American History was an important part of our upbringing and that has stuck with me even as an adult. My sister Crissy (aka Gunk) recently went to Massanutten, Virginia and took a day to visit Luray Caverns. We were there this summer and did a side trip to Jefferson’s home Monticello. The kids loved both and it made me realize that the things that stick out most to me out of every vacation I went on as a child, is that I learned something. This has influenced the way I spend my vacation time with Max. Especially since social studies seem to suffer in an environment of  “teaching to the test”.

7. My teacher Mrs. Christensen – Norma Christensen was by far the most influential teacher in my life. Not only was she my kindergarten teacher but she was my second grade teacher as well. She was about my mother’s age and had 6 kids, just like my mother. I loved that woman as much as you can love any teacher. She made learning fun and exciting. My father bought her classroom an electric pencil sharpener back when that was very high tech and I remember feeling so important. I really believe that in all my years of growing up, it was in Mrs. Christensen’s classroom that I felt smarter and more self assured than I ever had or did again until many years later. As an adult, I ran into Mrs. Christensen when I was waiting tables at the Kennett Square Inn. The second I said my name, she threw her arms around me. Like I said, I love that woman.

8. The First Time I Felt Really Bad About Myself –  This moment has stuck with me for several reasons. What’s interesting is that growing up with very curly, very red hair, I often struggled with feeling different. In my father’s eyes, its what made me extraordinary and beautiful. That went along way with me. I can remember being called “carrot top” and retorting “carrot tops are green”! I had made it through much of my preadolescence with my ego firmly intact. I was pretty comfortable with who I was and while shy, thought of myself as a fun, smart, tomboy who loved to hang a group of classmates I had known since kindergarten. It was about 4th grade when the lines really began to divide between the boys and the girls and the idea of liking a boy or being liked was even entertained. The incident in question involved me sitting at my desk next to a boy I had known since kindergarten but had developed a crush on recently. As I talked to him, I put my knees up on the front of the desk and tipped my chair back slowly as we often did. Now, if I had been a supermodel, I would have known better. But I was not and this accordion position at my desk had caused a large (at least in my memory) roll of fat to protrude from my shirt for this young man to see. I distinctly recall him looking at my stomach and then looking disgusted. Viola – a poor self image is born…..

9. Living In My Sister’s Shadow – My sister Patti’s nickname was Patti Perfect. Everything she did was easy. She didn’t try; she thrived. She was petite, blond, brilliant and athletic. I was average, redheaded, smart and liked to play dodgeball. Patti had the opportunity to skip both 2nd and 4th grade, although my mother wouldn’t allow it. She ultimately graduated out of 11th grade. She was a natural gymnast, doing ariels, as I struggled to get myself up out of the backbend. At one gymnastics meet, she won 1st place in 3 of the events; 3rd in the last and best all around. At another field day event she came home with 13 medals. So my father did what any good father would do. He made her give me some of them.

10. Dealing with Living in a Volatile Home – I loved my father but he was a difficult man. My mother recently told me she believes that he suffered from bipolar and she is probably right. For every good memory of the first 10 years of my life, I probably have a bad one that usually involved the mood instability that plagued my father. It was all highs and lows with that man. There was never any even keel. And that’s a hard way to live. It’s a difficult environment to raise children in. My father was a man who is often remembered as a larger than life personality. As an adult, I have run into grown men who hear my last name and tell a vivid story about a man who died in 1982. Those stories portray my father as a brilliant, fun loving, honorable, generous man. And he was all of those things. But he was troubled. And its hard listening to all of the joy he brought to others when you know that he inflicted a lot of pain on the people closest to him.

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