Seven Ways TV is Different than Real Life

I like TV. There, I admit it. I know I’m supposed to be above it all and say something kind of smug like, “I don’t really watch much TV…” but I cannot tell a lie (I’d no sooner drown my food or misuse a conjunction—both of which I learned about from Saturday morning cartoons.). I can almost chart the growth of my brand of humor and sense of timing to the shows I watched growing up. Who would I be without “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” or “The Cosby Show” and “The Dukes of Hazzard”?
The thing to keep in mind when watching television is that it’s not real. I realize that was one of the most obvious statements ever recorded in blogosphere history but it never hurts to review some basic facts. In honor of those days of old when we watched Saturday morning cartoons and they slipped in lessons about how to use crackers and cheese to make a wagon wheel and Superman taught us about bike safety in between commercial breaks, I will give my own PSA with a list of “Top Seven Ways TV is Different from Real Life.”
7. In real life you can’t always come up with ten things in a list.
6. On TV, a character will say something witty or profound and then he’ll walk away leaving his words hanging in the air like a floating bubble of wisdom—no retort necessary. In real life, if you say something witty with the authority of someone who knows he won’t be challenged (actors on TV can rely on the fact that the other actors have to stick to the script), you will most likely be disappointed. You’ll have to hustle out of the room before someone says something like “Uh-uh!” or “What?” or “Get back here! That’s not true.”
5. Some of the hair-do’s for TV characters are ridiculous. A female surgeon scrubs her hands in the OR. Though she’s on the tail end of her 36-hour shift, her hair is perfectly twisted and pinned into a neat chignon—not a hair out of place. Where’s the messy ponytail with unkempt wisps all over her forehead?
4. Romantic relationships on TV are almost always unrealistic but nothing tops the “teen boy pines away for the shy, pretty girl” scenario. How often do we really see the guy with the boom box in the girl’s front yard? 
3. It cracks me up when a woman wears a lot of makeup to bed. Ok, I realize you’ve got the studio lighting to battle but does she really need charcoal eyelids and ruby lips with her flannel pajamas?
2. TV drivers look at the passenger too frequently. Keep your eyes on the road, people!
1. Anytime someone comes home after going to the grocery store on TV, that person must always carry a paper grocery bag with celery or the green part of carrots sticking out of the bag. It’s a law.

Ok, that’s a start. Send me more ideas! Be proud that you love TV! Just don’t watch crap like the Kardashians or Jersey Shore.

Time Machine

I’m building a time machine. It’s almost ready. It’s made from an office chair, one of those hair dryers you sit under at the beauty parlor, a bent TV antenna, a couple of black lights, a Mr. Spell, and lots of aluminum foil.

I’ve got my first time destination all figured out: I’m going back to when I was ten years old. I’ve got some things to tell ten-year old Abby that I think she’ll find useful. Here’s what I’ll say:

At every opportunity I want you to play. I know you’re getting older and you can’t wait to become an adult but you may never have this much time to play again. So get out there and swing on the swing set until you think the posts will pull right out of the ground. And when you get really high…jump. You may not always land on your feet but when else can you fly in your own backyard? Speaking of jumping, untangle those jump ropes and get hopping. I don’t care if you’re singing “Cinderella Dressed in Yellow” or “Apples on a Stick”—just jump. Listen, I’m really serious. Someday, you will suffer from motion sickness just from swinging. Your stomach will drop right to your toes with every lift of the swing. You’ll also be so concerned about your bladder control that jumping rope will only be possible if you’re wearing an adult diaper. Enjoy carefree playtime while you can.

Next I want to speak to you about your sisters. I know they can drive you crazy. Being in the middle of two girls who are alike in as many ways as they are different is challenging. It stinks that you’ve had to share a room with one or both of them all your life but you’ll get your own room soon. I promise. Not too long after that, you’ll be in college with a roommate in a dorm full of girls. You’ll be entirely equipped to deal with all of those double-X chromosomes. Until then, there may be some days when you will wish you were born an only child. You will rub the bruises your sister covertly inflicts on you in the backseat of the van and cover your ears as doors are slammed in fits of rage but you’ll eventually come to see these sisters as the greatest gift from your childhood.

Boys: Right now you’re wondering why God—in all His abundant wisdom and mercy—created them. They’ve gone from buddies who play tag with you on the playground to mini-men whose rank smell and bodily functions disgust and perturb you. And still, in spite of these aversions, you will have a secret crush or two whose identity will neverbe revealed to anyone. You will watch these boys from afar, doubting that they even know your name. Wanting their attention will encourage you to change parts of yourself—your clothes, your likes and dislikes, your personality—but you won’t make those changes. You will stand firm in the essence of you-ness and your reward will be waiting for you your freshman year of college.  He’ll be six feet tall with brown hair and dark hazel eyes. You’ll know him when you see him.

Well, Ten-Year Old Abby, I guess that’s about it. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in the next few decades but it’s going to be okay. There will be triumphant moments of new birth and despairing moments of inexplicable loss. And in between you’ll have days where you just load the dishwasher and fold laundry. The main thing you need to remember is that there’s a fair and loving God who’s watching your life unfold on a heavenly, big screen with anticipation and pride. He’ll use His Word to rebuke you and send His Holy Spirit to set you back in the right path from time to time but He wants you to get to know Him more intimately with each passing year. He already knows everything about you—even the secret crush.

Cooking School

On Sunday, my sisters and I took a cooking class in Franklin. All three of us are relatively good cooks but we decided on a basic knife skills class to improve our cutting proficiency (My older sister’s ten-year old son was disappointed that “knife skills” didn’t mean that we’d enrolled in a self-defense class. He was hoping we’d return as ninja killing machines.).

There were just six students in the class. The other three were middle-aged—a couple and another woman. My sisters and I were surprised to see that these certified, AARP card-carrying adults had almost no idea how to cut peppers and onions. We’re assuming that they recently had to let their personal chefs go forcing them to finally learn to cook. To protect their identities, I will call them Betty and Bob (the couple) and Sylvia.

Before we officially started the class, we sat down at a table and ate a little Danish for a snack. Bob took one bite and pronounced it “too sweet.” I finished mine in three bites. Later in the class, we were told to salt the salsa we were making. All three of our classmates declared their aversion to salt in unison. “You’ve got to watch that high blood pressure,” they all said. No sweets and low salt?  I can’t wait to turn sixty!

Our instructor (Let’s call her Theresa—not so much to protect her identity but because I can’t remember her name. She was the only one not wearing a nametag) was full of not-so-helpful sayings: “A clean apron equals a good cook” and “Sharing means caring.” Her favorite thing to say was “Follow through, Betty.” Poor Betty was the least capable student in our class. She seemed woefully unsure of herself in the kitchen. She kept her purse on her shoulder during most of the lesson. I think it was so that she could get to her tissues during the teary, onion-chopping part. Theresa was by her side most of the class critiquing her techniques and reminding her how to place the vegetable on the board correctly.

Theresa didn’t make it over to our side of the counter very often. When she did and I felt her watchful gaze over my shoulder, I found myself chopping more precisely. Nevertheless, she would pass by me and my older sister Becky and then on to our younger sister—the left-handed artist. Theresa couldn’t spout out enough praise for Carrie. “Perfect,” she would say with barely contained admiration. Sure, Carrie can do some great chopping but where was my “perfect”? My one consolation was that Becky didn’t get much love either.

It was amazing that a class of six adults wasn’t much different than an elementary class of twenty-five. You have your lower-achievers who require the majority of the teacher’s attention, higher- achievers who are inwardly motivated to perfection, and average students who do what’s needed to get by but who wouldn’t mind a little praise or at least a Skittle from the candy jar.

I’ve been substitute teaching at my kids’ school a couple of times a week lately (You could dig ditches for eight hours and not work as hard to earn $75.).  They attend an ethnically diverse public school with a wide variety of social demographics. We love it. On paper, going to your zoned public school doesn’t always make sense. You look at TCAP scores and percentages of students who receive free lunch and you wonder what you’re exposing your precious children to but looking at these kids in person is a more accurate approach (By the way, I am in no way against leaving your school zone. I am a product of private education. I just want all schools to be successful.).

When I walk into a classroom to explain to a class that their teacher is absent and I am Mrs. Rosser, I brace myself for the reaction. Will they throw their morning work up in the air and proclaim that today is a holiday? Will they feel lost and despondent like the time they couldn’t find their mom in the grocery store? Will they cling to me all day asking to hold my hand while we walk down the hall and offer to carry my chair out to recess? The answer is yes. All of those things happen because every child in that class is different and different levels of ability and adaptability is perfectly normal. It is more difficult for a child living in poverty to do well in school but not because he doesn’t have the potential. It’s easier for a child living in a high-income bracket to do well in school but not because money makes us smarter. There is so much more involved in student success.

At the end of the day, I will often have bus duty in the gym. Our school has over 1,000 kids enrolled this year and hundreds of them ride the bus home in the afternoon.  I pace up and down the long aisles of kids sitting with their fellow bus-mates reminding them to be quiet and to listen for their bus numbers to be called. It almost brings me to tears every time. I’m amazed that so many kids aged 5-12 can be corralled in such an organized way. Older siblings sit with younger siblings. Some older kids read. The kindergarteners rub their eyes—they’ve had a long day. The authority of the teachers and staff in the gym isn’t questioned by the kids. For the most part, they just sit and wait to go home. They’re good kids. Some of them are natural students who won’t struggle with school and some will hit roadblock after roadblock both now and as adults. Instead of resigning these kids to a life of failure, we should look at elementary school as a time of promise and possibility. All of us can use some improvement in some part of our lives. Just look at Betty. With the personalized help she received on Sunday she’s probably been chopping like a pro all week.

Facial Profiling

When Brent was in middle school, he played in a soccer league against other middle school boys from all over Knoxville. There was one boy who stood out amongst the rest for his level of trash talk and general obnoxious behavior. Brent couldn’t stand the guy. This guy eventually moved away for a year for his dad to teach at a university in a different state and Brent was relieved to be rid of him…or so he thought. The next year, Captain Trash Talk came back to Knoxville and enrolled in Brent’s high school. Fast-forward almost ten years later and that guy was one of the groomsmen in our wedding.
We make so many quick judgments every day about people and situations. We get stopped at a red light and pull up behind a slick SUV with a bumper sticker that advertises a private school in town and another one that says “Seaside” in a confident, understated font. Without even looking at the driver, we know that she’s wearing stylish sunglasses, has very white, straight teeth, and—depending on the time of day—either expensive work-out clothes because she’s meeting with her trainer or expensive jeans because she’s meeting her best girlfriends for lunch. At the next light, we are behind an older model Subaru wagon. This one has more stickers than bumper. They include one that advertises a local tattoo parlor, one that says COEXIST with each letter representing a different religious faith, and another one recommending that you should shoot your TV. This driver is on her way to a rally for animal rights or to get her eyebrow pierced.
This is what we (meaning me) do. We think we know people based on the face value of our first impression of them. It’s like racial profiling without the specific parameters of race alone—although that does often play a part in our initial assumptions about them. It’s unfair to the socialite or the hippie or whomever it is I see and it’s also unfair to me because I may prevent myself from meeting a new BFF. Considering this topic has got me thinking about how people view me. I think I know how I put myself out there to the world but my intended persona may not translate to others in those first five seconds that we’re introduced the way I’d like.
It reminds me of an old movie I saw years ago. It’s called The Enchanted Cottage. Robert Young plays a war veteran returning from battle with extensive scars on his face. He avoids his family and fiancée because he thinks his looks are too gruesome for him to marry or have any kind of normal life. He sequesters himself in an isolated cottage—the location for his now-canceled honeymoon. Dorothy McGuire plays the homely maid at the cottage. (The makeup people really went to work on this actress to make her plain but not repulsive. Apparently, the easiest way to do this is to give her bushy eyebrows. They are out of control.) She’s shy and beaten down by a world that values looks over just about anything. Over time, she quells his anger and he builds up her self-image. As they fall in love, they begin to see each other as beautiful. By the time they’re married at the cottage, they’re both perfect-looking in that 1940’s movie, soft-lighting kind of way. When they invite friends to come and see them after their marriage, they’re horrified to learn that these changes in their looks can’t be seen by anyone else. They have a very good friend who is blind. He comes to visit them both before and after this startling realization. He explains to them that our eyes can deceive us. When we look with a heart full of love, the features on the outside can change.
Oh, how I wish I could see people in this way!  How I wish that I would care more about projecting an image that reflects love than worrying over my own blemishes or frizzy hair or frumpy minivan. When I meet someone new—maybe a mom at my children’s school—I’m meeting an adult with a history. She’s suffered heartbreak and disappointment in some form. She’s also had lots of really good days full of sunshine and smiling faces and people who hug her and tell her she’s great. (Hopefully more of the latter than the former one.) She’s got a talent that I don’t have even if she doesn’t know what it is yet. She’s got a story to tell and it’s fascinating. Everyone does. She’s been “writing” it for years. She may come across as confident but there is some hidden fear—a worry that lurks in the shadowy corners of her daily thoughts—that would knock her down to her knees in an instant. She may seem meek and ordinary but there’s at least one thing in her life that she’s really proud of and if you can figure out what it is and get her talking she’ll light up the room with the sheer excitement in her voice.
Every person that God places in my path today is a gift. He’s saying, “Look! Here’s another one that I love! Please take a second to get to know this one because she is different from every other person you’ll meet today. I know she’s got some prickly quills you have to get pass to really start to understand her. (In fact, Gabriel and I call her Miss Porcupine. Oh, the inside jokes I have up here in heaven with the angels…A-hem, anyway.) But if you can get her talking about her kids…Man! Her face just transforms. She’s beautiful!” 

Not Quite Cut Out for Space Exploration

Last Saturday, Knox and I went to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Brent and the girls were having some bonding time at a Girl Scout outing so I decided to play the card that never gets played by mom—the fun card. (It might as well be the Joker card for all the playtime it gets. If anything it’s just there to frustrate as with its insignificance as we shove it back into the tiny paper box next to the instruction card.) I learned later that while we were gazing up at missiles and sitting in the mars landing simulator, Neil Armstrong—more famous moonwalker even than Michael Jackson—passed away at age 82.

Getting to the space center was almost as monumental of a journey as that famed Apollo 11 flight some forty-three years ago. Armed with my Garmin GPS device, I set off. There’s just not a good way to get from Murfreesboro to Huntsville, apparently. My GPS pretty much said, “Pull out of your driveway. Turn a couple of times. Drive 30 miles. Turn again. Drive 30 miles. Turn again. Drive 30 more miles.” I really started wondering if I was going to end up back at my house only to find out that the Space Center was in my backyard all along. Since I was using mainly two-lane highways most of the way, I spent the majority of the two hour trip regretting my route. I’d get behind a flatbed truck that was transporting a house or a farmer driving a tractor while talking on his cell phone. It was painfully slow and Knox—normally an engaging conversationalist—was fully engrossed in his movie. (Side Note: I think I’ve listened to more of their movies than I’ve actually watched. It’s usually entertaining enough—like an old timey radio show but he chose to watch a Tom and Jerry DVD which is made up of sound effects like: Zwing! Ay-ya-ya-ya! Ah-oo-gah! Not exactly a riveting listening experience.)

I was getting bored so I tried to look for interesting sights that would keep me alert. Road kill (why so many armadillos?), diners, auto part shops (One was called Classy Chassis—if you have to say “classy” in the name it probably isn’t), and biker gangs can only keep you interested for so long. We would go through small towns where the speed limit would drop to 35 MPH and there would be one flashing yellow light at an intersection. At one point, even my GPS got bored. She had just said to drive for twenty miles then she started to panic. “Turn right at Independence Avenue.” What? There’s no such road. The only thing on the right is a cotton field. “Turn left at Monument Road.” Left?! I can’t turn left. I’d have to drive across a median. “Make a U-turn.” Why? “Make a U-turn.” No. “Make a U-turn.” She sounded calm and confident but there was an edge to her voice that made me nervous. The map on her display kept changing like she was flipping through her memory for something that she just couldn’t find. Oh how I wished I had a good old fashioned Rand-McNally map right then. I would’ve pulled over and spread it across my steering wheel until I located where in the world I was. Then I would’ve folded it wrong and stuffed it in the glove compartment. Those were the days…

As we got closer to Hunstville, my GPS stopped freaking out and became helpful again. I’m very thankful for this because I think the Hunstville city planners were smoking crack when they planned their city. There are arrows on some of the signs hanging above the interstate that curve in ways my Honda Odyssey was not designed to do. Apparently they all drove Formula One racecars to work everyday. I figured out why they have the giant rocket looming over the space center. It gives drivers a lighthouse to aim for as they meander through the city. When I told Knox that we finally made it to the parking lot, his first words were, “Wow! That was fast.” How I love that boy!

Inside the museum we learned about military spy planes and Blackhawk helicopters. We watched an IMAX movie about Space Junk (All those satellite parts and landing gear are crashing into each other making even smaller debris that will eventually create rings around our planet like the ones around Saturn. Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything else to worry about…) and walked through an exhibit about wooly mammoths. (One of these things is not like the other…) I took pictures of Knox as he pretended to lift giant replicas of missiles and rockets. I bought him astronaut ice cream—a complete mystery to him. “So I eat it? Why isn’t it cold? Do I need a spoon? Why is it chewy?” We rode the Mars simulator multiple times to see if there was a noticeable difference in where you sit. He asked me questions about space and science that I didn’t know but I was quick to use my Wikipedia app before admitting defeat. He held my hand as we walked passed Boy Scout groups and large families. It was completely worth the trip.

Today, I went to a memorial service for a college friend who passed away earlier this week. She was an amazing person—probably the most sincere and humble person I’ve ever known. In these last twenty months of her battle with cancer, she continued to tell us to savor every day, every second that God gives us. I have to wonder how much of my journey with God is like that trip to Hunstville. How much of my thoughts and energy are consumed with worrying that I’m going the wrong way or wishing that every thing, person, and event would just hurry up? I try to guess at God’s plans ahead of time like I’m solving the big ending to a predictable movie only to realize I’m wrong. Consequently, I have to make signs with squiggly arrows to explain how to navigate out of my poor choices when I could’ve eliminated all of the confusion by waiting on God’s guidance in the first place.

Another way I attempted to entertain myself on the trip down was to imagine the day that Knox—the first astronaut to land on Mars—would make a speech while accepting his Presidential Medal of Honor. “And it all started,” he would say, “When my mom took me to the Space Center when I was seven.” When we were leaving I asked him, after seeing that cool stuff, if he wanted to be an astronaut when he grows up. “No. I’m not going up there to clean up all that junk.” It didn’t turn out exactly as I imagined but in the end it was even better. I’m going to try to slow down and appreciate all the little moments that make this life the gift that it is. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that day with Knox for the world–floating junk and all.