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First Date

“If you’re a young Mafia gangster out on your first date, I bet it’s real embarrassing if someone tries to kill you.” (Jack Handy)

Who can forget their first date?

My mom fondly recalled her first date many times over the course of my life: she was 5 years old, and went to a movie at a movie theater with a boy and his parents. She was a friendly gal, and dated a lot during her childhood and early teens, and then it was recommended by L.D.S. church leaders that dating be delayed until the age of 16 so she stopped dating–until she turned 16 years old!

I remember my first date: Derek.

It was late August 1983 after I had turned 16 years old. The boy I’d had a crush on since the moment I first laid eyes on him (at 14 years old) had asked me out and my friend, Carrie, had come over to help me get ready. I talked and hung out with her while I did my hair and makeup and decided what to wear–and she gave me a pedicure, which I promptly covered up when I put my Topsiders on! It was the 1980s, so of course my hair was something to behold, and accented by the skinny tie (anyone remember wearing those?) that completed my ensemble. We saw the movie, “Strange Brew,” and had a great time. It was a first date with no regrets, or embarrassing moments, that I can recall.

My daughter’s first date was an entirely different experience: Eric.

She went to a school dance with the boy she sits by in Chemistry class, a fun and casual friend. Watching my daughter get ready, and helping her, was a total flashback to the 1980s as she was headed to a decades-themed dance and she and her date had chosen 1980s exercise wear. I helped her find a Jelly belt, tear her sweatshirt to hang off the shoulder, find neon-colored tank tops to layer, get her hair in THE  high side ponytail, with her green eyeshadow (what can I say, we couldn’t find any blue eyeshadow in the house!) and with her hot pink headband (just like Olivia Newton John’s in “Lets Get Physical.”) It wasn’t in the original plan that my daughter drive on the date, but due to car troubles of other parties involved, she ended up driving her car. And accidentally, while slowly backing up, she backed into a friend’s car.

It was dark. Neither she nor her date saw the other car. Thankfully, she backs up really slowly. Thankfully, no damage occurred to either car or to any living being. In fact, the driver of the other car got out, hugged my daughter and told her it was no big deal. I was very relieved there was no damage to people or automobiles; but my daughter was so mortified about the whole thing she wasn’t even dwelling on that. That event overshadowed every other aspect of her first date. That event was what she talked about when she got home. Even late the NEXT evening she was still worrying about it, alone in her bedroom, so I went to check on her.

She was absolutely humiliated, mortified, and didn’t want to show her face anywhere, ever, again. I tried to help her put it into perspective so I said, “Sarah, you can survive this. Just think of other hugely embarrassing things you’ve overcome.”

“Like what?” she asked.

I was stunned. Had the events of 2009 faded that fast in her teenage mind? I clarified, “Like discovering a family member stole millions of dollars, was heading to prison, it was all over the national media, we lost everything and had to watch the government come into our home and take our possessions, some people were mean to us, other people were kind to us yet we had to rely on the charity of others…ALL of those embarrassing moments we endured. If you can survive that humiliation, you can get through anything! This is nothing compared to that.”

Adding that last sentence reminded me that embarrassment and humiliation is all in your perspective. It was also a mistake; add it to the many that continually stream from my mouth, far too often, as I say what I think pretty much as soon as I think it. Call it one of my many weaknesses.

My daughter countered that her experience was far more embarrassing than the one I referenced. I was stunned! I couldn’t believe she really thought that, but she did. She drove her point home (no pun intended, lol!) when she added, “And Mom, if you think criminals, Ponzi schemes, publicity, divorce, prison, crime, government seizure and everything else is more embarrassing than backing into another car on a date…you don’t know ANYTHING about teenage girls!”

Wow. How could I have gotten so old and so far removed from being a teenage girl? And how could I have failed my daughter like that?

You see, one of the great things about being my mother’s daughter is that no matter my embarrassing moment, when I returned home mortified about something that had happened to me, my mom could totally commiserate and share an embarrassing moment from her life that absolutely outdid mine, made me laugh and made me feel so much better about my humiliation! In fact, she survived such mortification that as an adult, friends would call after something embarrassing and ask, “Tell me a story about your mom to make me feel better so I can get through this most recent humiliation.” I thought that’s what mothers are for–and I wasn’t able to do that for mine! (Although I must be blinded by my past, because I could swear 2009 is the ultimate in humiliation. I can’t see myself ever being embarrassed about anything again, after that one!)

So I quit trying to reason with my daughter, stopped attempting to help her put embarrassment into perspective and just empathized with her. I promised that someday, we will look back on her first date…and laugh; we’ll even be the better for it, and we’ll be strong.

“But I learned that there’s a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. If you can sit happy with embarrassment, there’s not much else that can really get to ya.” (Christian Bale)

Now if we can only be totally hot when we have as much character, strength and wisdom as Batman, we’ll be absolutely set for…The Unexpected Life.

Fairies And Wings And…Teeth

“Listen to the wisdom of the toothless ones.” (Fijian Proverb)

A few weeks into our marriage, my middle son lost a tooth. He excitedly placed it in the special tooth fairy box (after several kids’ lost teeth, I found there was something easier than digging around underneath a pillow in the dark!) on the nightstand beside his bed and anxiously waited to see what the tooth fairy would deliver by morning.

The only problem?

He forgot to tell me what he had done. And I, his mother, had a few things on my mind: four children, new stepchildren, condensing houses, adjusting to everyone living together, full-time job, getting everyone where they needed to be at the times they needed to be there, my new marriage, and the usual worries and cares regarding bills and finances. Amidst all the other stuff, I forgot that most important item, nestled in its box, in the basement.

After a day or two of forgetfulness, my son said, “Sure do wish the tooth fairy could make a visit and hopefully leave me some money!” Oops.

A day or two after that my son reminded, “Can you believe it’s taking the tooth fairy so long to find me and my tooth?” Nope.

A few days later my son warned, “My tooth is ROTTING in the box!” Yuck. I’m not sure I want to discover what that means.

Of course, #5 wasn’t much help. He never remembered, himself, and never even remembered to remind me! Instead, he asked my son if he realized silver teeth were worth more than regular ones. Before my son got too excited at the prospect of that, I had to clarify that this daughter-of-a-former-dentist did NOT believe the tooth fairy valued a tooth so cavity-filled it had needed a silver cap on it as more valuable than a normal, healthy, cavity-free tooth! Another time #5 asked my son if he realized the longer you had to wait for the tooth fairy to take your tooth, the more money she generally left. I had to quash that one, too. (The adjustments you have to make in a second marriage–you’re both coming from two totally different worlds, with different ideas and expectations…even regarding the tooth fairy! Lol, but true.) We endured several nights of forgetfulness and then the one night before bed, when I actually did remember there was a duty to be done, I couldn’t find any cash in the entire house!

One evening, when I checked on my son before I went to bed, I saw a note he had written to remind the tooth fairy of the duty she had neglected–almost begging her to take his tooth! I dashed back upstairs, found some money, and quietly snuck through the dark of his bedroom, opened the lid of the tooth fairy box, dropped the cash in, and ran back upstairs before I was caught in the act of aiding and abetting the fairy of all things dental.

I couldn’t wait for the next morning, when my son discovered his reward and realized he hadn’t been forgotten after all! And it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Just when I was starting to feel like a loser mother, I had remembered what I needed to. Great job, Andrea! (I couldn’t help but congratulate myself on an important job, finally, well-done.)

The next morning my son appeared in the kitchen. I was brimming with expectation and excitement and he only slightly let me down when he said, “The tooth fairy came! She even gave me $1! But can you believe…she forgot to take my tooth?”

Sometimes you just can’t get it right.

Even if you’re trying to help the tooth fairy out.

Especially if you’re a newlywed.

Second marriage moment #8.

“All I know is that I’ve ruled out wearing fairy wings. When I was nine I wanted to get married in fairy wings, and now I realize that’s not cool anymore.” (Isla Fisher)

What’s More Life-Affirming Than…?

“Never ever discount the idea of marriage. Sure, someone might tell you that marriage is just a piece of paper. Well, so is money, and what’s more life-affirming than cold, hard cash?” (Dennis Miller)

Paperwork? Check.

Name change issue resolved? Check.

What else is there to do prior to remarriage?

I think, a lot! But I honestly don’t remember much about my final week as a single mom, divorced, sole parent of four children. It’s kind of a blur. I didn’t take any time off work so I continued to work full-time during the day, every day, and tried to take care of the extra details in the evenings–in addition to my children.

I had interviews with my pastor and a local church leader to obtain the special recommend needed to marry #5 in the Manti L.D.S. Temple. I’ll never forget one of those conversations: “Andrea Merriman, do you realize YOU are a MIRACLE?” My answer? “Yes, I realize that the outcome of the events in my life is CERTAINLY a miracle!” And we had a great discussion about all I have experienced, the healing that has taken place in my life, what has made my healing possible, and the amazing experiences and opportunities, including #5, with which I have been blessed as a result of my unexpected life.

I got a dress to wear when I married. My daughter helped me pick it. It was a fun memory, just the two of us shopping together at a white clothing store, but certainly one I NEVER expected to have–a teenage daughter helping me select a wedding dress!

My sisters, a sister-in-law, a cousin and a friend at work helped put together a wedding lunch for our family after the temple marriage and sealing.

That is about the extent of the planning I did. I was too busy clearing out half my closet for #5 and attending to details like that to do anything else. And #5 was very busy working full-time, wrapping up the details of his life as a single man, and moving his son into my home, not to mention arranging for a wedding license.

All in a matter of days.

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.” (Margaret Thatcher)


I’ve admired a few women in my life.

Every once in awhile, you come across someone who exemplifies everything you admire. You look at her with awe and hope that someday… you can become like her. That someday you’ll be as beautiful on the inside, and out, as she is.

The bummer comes in getting there.

In becoming like her.

In developing the beauty that comes from meeting life and conquering its challenges with grace, dignity and class. (At least, that’s my goal.)

Someday, I want to be a woman like that.

“Class has nothing to do with money. Class never runs scared. It is self-discipline and self-knowledge. It’s the sure footedness that comes with having proved you can meet life.” (Ann Landers)

And if I ever become such a woman, I’m going to have to thank my unexpected life for that, too.

I Didn’t Sell My Soul

“I’d have a whole lot more money if I lied, but I wouldn’t enjoy spending it.” (Martina Navratilova)

I know what you mean, Martina. But not only would I not have enjoyed spending it, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself either.

“One of my proudest moments is I didn’t sell my soul for the sake of popularity.” (George W. Bush) Or things. Or money.

I’ll always be glad it’s the way I’ve chosen to live. But it does mean shortage of money is a reality in my unexpected life. Not just that things are tight, but that like many people, I assume, especially single mothers or people in the throes of an unexpected life and in an economic downturn, I’m short. Every month. Some might say “My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income” (Errol Flynn) but in my case, it’s more a result of starting over in my 40s (not just at zero, but in the hole thanks to the financial morass created by my former spouse), with four children and no alimony or child support, on the heels of complete and total financial devastation!

So I’m always looking to economize. This quest has led to a few special memories, experiences I’ve listed in the Unexpected Life “Hall of Fame” of Andrea Merriman. Things I NEVER imagined I’d do, or that would be the reality of my life.

There’s quite a bit  I never expected.

The Real Measure of Wealth

“They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?” (Princess Diana)

I’ve been what some might consider “rich” once or twice in my life, and I’ve been poor a few times too. But I’ve never held with defining “rich” in terms of money.

“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” (Unknown)

Most people never get to learn how much they’re ACTUALLY worth. Lucky me, I guess. And I have a Ponzi scheme and my unexpected life to thank because although they served up my financial devastation on a platter of crime, they reminded me of something I’ve always known: I’m rich.

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.” (Coco Chanel)

I don’t have money.

But I’m rich.

If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy. And you’ll realize you’re rich, too.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I remember when I thought I knew it all. It was also around the time I first used the word “mature.”

I was a teenager who thought she knew almost everything. If I remember right, I was trying to persuade my mom using the best verbal arguments I could muster, that that was indeed the case. So I threw that word out there: mature.

I pronounced it, “mah-chure.”

That was my first mistake. My former schoolteacher mother caught it right away. “You mean, ‘mah-tour,’” she corrected. “And you probably shouldn’t use the word if you aren’t mature enough to know how to say mature.”

She had a point.

It has been almost 30 years since that conversation.  My parents are both gone. I’ve learned, experienced and matured in ways I never expected. I thought it might finally be time to evaluate my maturity. (Hopefully with better results, this time!)

“Maturity: Be able to stick with a job until it is finished. Be able to bear an injustice without having to get even. Be able to carry money without spending it. Do your duty without being supervised.” (Ann Landers)

Check. Check. Check. And check. I guess I have finally developed the proper maturity. And as usual, I owe it all to my unexpected life.

Don’t we all?

So thanks, my unexpected life. Maturity is yet one more thing I never expected from you.

“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  (William Shakespeare)

The unexpected life.

The gift that keeps on giving.

I Want A Man

“I want a man who’s kind and understanding.  Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?” (Zsa Zsa Gabor)

As a teenager, I compiled a list of everything I wanted in a man. I found that list after my divorce…and laughed. In many ways, it was a bit, as #5 would call it, “Twilight-esque.” (In other words, unrealistic and total, imaginary romanticism that exists in the fictional world of vampires and werewolves, Edward and Bella. Ah, the emotional depth of teenage girls!) Here are a few important qualities from the early 1980s: tall, brown hair, tan skin, hard working, handsome, good at sports, funny, nice, good dancer, smart, good singer, polite, straight white teeth, opens doors for me, rich, writes romantic things to me, fun, spiritual, honest, hairless chest, sends me flowers, loves me more than anything, romantic, wears good cologne, stylish…let’s see, did I leave ANYTHING out?

When I grew up, I was self-aware enough to know looks and athletics alone might be fine for some women, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough to keep me “in love” for the rest of my life and into eternity so I decided long term (what I would most appreciate as a married woman in my 40s) was a smart man who treated me well. I married the first guy I felt was smarter than me. And boy, did he turn out to be smart! A lot smarter, more clever and cunning, than I’d ever imagined, in fact! I was happy and in love, until I found out our 20-year marriage had been built on 14+years of deception and lies. (Ironic, isn’t it, that I based my choice on what I’d want 40-something, and that’s when it all ended and I was alone and single anyway?)

It was the personal loss that caused me the most pain. My childrens’ loss of their dad, their childhood, their innocence, their life, their family, everything as they knew it, was the worst; followed closely by my loss. I had lost the man I had loved, relied on and built a life with; the man who should have been loyal to me and my biggest protector. I just knew I was destined to be alone the rest of my life. I felt those losses powerfully.

I remember standing in my Colorado kitchen one day, my heart literally breaking over those losses. And mother that I am, this is why I cried that time: “Even if someday when I’m 80 years old and some man takes pity on me and marries me because his wife died and he needs a housekeeper, I’ll never have a whole and complete family. Even if a one-in-a-billion miracle happens and a man ever loves me again, no one will love my children. My kids will never again run into my room, jump on my bed, and wrestle with a dad.” (It may sound crazy, but out of everything I had lost that was a big one for me.)

I began dating less than 3 months after my divorce, and I realize now, I entered into it without a lot of thought. I was reeling from the shock of what had transpired in a matter of months; I didn’t know what I was doing because everything related to singles and socializing had changed so drastically since the 1980s (it was sort of like entering the playing field without a game plan.) I was lonely. However, after meeting my first single man, it didn’t take long to list the things I couldn’t live without: spiritual depth, integrity, emotional stability, family-oriented focus, employed, a good father to my kids, a man who loves ME. Oh, and good credit. (The crimes of my husband and his incarceration destroyed MY credit. I didn’t need a man with money because I’ve never needed money to be happy, but I had to have a man who could at least qualify for a rental lease, a home loan, or a car loan because I can’t–and I can’t ask friends and family to do that for me for the rest of my life! The Catch-22 is that what man with good credit would want me and my financial disaster? But that’s a blog for another day…)

Cut to the other night.

Mr. Awesome (aka. #5/Agent M) and I were sitting on my bed talking. The door was locked. (With a small house and many children around, it’s what we’ve occasionally had to resort to when we need to discuss something important.) In the middle of it, my youngest knocked on the door. I didn’t open it, but told him I’d be with him as soon as my discussion was over. He went away for awhile and then knocked again. I repeated my instruction, he went away for awhile and then knocked on the door again. The third time he knocked, #5 looked at me and asked, “Do you think we should open the door and let him in now? I like it when he runs in and jumps on the bed. I love his hugs. And it’s fun to wrestle him.”

He opened the door and their wrestling match began. Pillows were flying, tickles were traded (along with a few karate chops) and all I could do was remember that moment I stood in my Colorado kitchen, sure that my youngest would never know what it was to have a dad, much less wrestle with a dad.

Can you believe it? Dreams really can come true.

Every single one of them.

“I tell people I’m too stupid to know what’s impossible. I have ridiculously large dreams, and half the time they come true.” (Debi Thomas)

The Going Rate

“When one of Lisa’s baby teeth fell out here, the tooth fairy left her 50 cents.  Another tooth fell out when she was with her father in Las Vegas, and that tooth fairy left her $5.  When I told Elvis that 50 cents would be more in line, he laughed.  He knew I was not criticizing him; how would Elvis Presley know the going rate for a tooth?” (Priscilla Presley)

I’m not sure about the going rate for a tooth these days either. Although I’ve got to figure it out because my middle son–the one with a toothache, who ended up getting his tooth pulled at the dentist today–asked me upon our return home from the procedure if The Tooth Fairy, like Santa Claus, gives more to rich kids than poor kids.

I guess he has noticed some contrasts between his old life and our new, unexpected one. Thankfully, his older brother distracted him with talk of other things and I didn’t have to think of a brilliant answer on the spot.

“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” (W.C. Fields)

Just kidding.

But I’ve got to think of something wise, yet truthful…FAST.

Hold Your Breath And Hope

“When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen.  When they’re finished, I climb out.” (Erma Bombeck)

I was running late for work yesterday, trying to hustle my youngest along in his morning routine, our departure delayed by the fact he couldn’t find any shoes. It’s a problem for him all too often–he leaves his shoes everywhere! (Just ask my patient neighbors who occasionally deliver grocery sacks full of shoes to our front door that my youngest has left around the neighborhood as he visits everyone.)

I dashed to his room and rummaged around in all the dark corners, treading delicately on a carpet of Legos that seem to be competing with the cut and twisted Berber carpeting as the flooring of choice in his bedroom, but no luck. No shoes.

I finally located a pair of orange flip flops, absolutely ideal for Utah’s winter weather, he put them on and off he headed to daycare.

December 13, in orange summer slippers!

Just my luck, it was a preschool day as well, so his school AND the daycare staff were going to witness my campaign for Mother of the Year. (Yeah, right. “Special” Mother of the Year, maybe!)

As I went to load him in the car, I realized he hadn’t eaten breakfast. So I ran back in to the house to make him a piece of toast. Unbeknownst to me, he unbuckled, followed me back in the house, and refused the piece of toast when it was ready. He was insistent on a hot breakfast. Nothing microwaved. Something prepared on the stove.

I was already late, so I took 5 minutes more and whipped up something hot, belted him in his car seat again, and told him to eat while I drove. I quickly dropped him at daycare and headed to work. After I arrived at work, 30 minutes later, in another city, I looked down and saw his jacket sitting on the seat beside me.

“How did that get there?” I wondered. I’d seen my son walk into his daycare wearing that very garment earlier. And then it hit me: in my haste I’d held on to his jacket when I took it off him at daycare, had carried it to the car and had driven it to work with me!

December 13. Orange flip flops. And (now) no coat.

After working all day I got in my car for the commute home and noticed, for the first time, my son’s school backpack sitting on the front seat of my car. “How did that get there?” I wondered. I remembered I had specifically carried it in to daycare that morning…and must have carried it right back out to the car with me and took it to work too!

December 13. Orange flip flops. No coat. No backpack for preschool.

Is there even a competition for mothers like me?

I doubt it.

At daycare, as I reached in my purse to get a pen to sign my son out, guess what I found? A pair of his shoes!

In my purse.

I hadn’t even known they were there.

“Like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, hold our breath and hope we’ve set aside enough money for our kid’s therapy.” (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Believe me, I’m holding my breath and hoping, too!