Shiny New Doors

For our Thanksgiving family outing D, T and I went to see The Blind Side on Monday evening. I have read several reviews about the film since then, and many critics lead off with: "This is a feel-good football movie that..."

BLAM. I'm automatically disgusted.

In my mind, the person who would call The Blind Side a football movie is also the obtuse/lazy/self-absorbed person who would stand inside the Sistine Chapel and go, "It's cool, I guess... but why did Michaelangelo have to paint the ceiling?" Somehow, somehow, they're tripped up by the trivial and completely miss the beauty and nobility of what they're seeing.

For someone like me, there's not a CHANCE. IN. HELL. that the true message of this film was gonna get away. For someone like me, this story invokes a present-life appreciation with as much voltage as if you plastered my body with electrodes and hooked me up to the NiCad battery in Fairbanks, AK. (No frame of reference for this one? Here you go.)

A movie like this generates a sense of gratitude so amplified that it borders on the maniacal... because for someone like me, watching The Blind Side was like seeing a long-ago life of my own unfold on the screen.

I watched as the homeless Michael "Big Mike" Oher, no doubt wearied by aimless wandering, slowly lumbers his way to an all-night laundromat to sit and wait out another night—and I almost had a complete emotional breakdown right there in the theater because, although I was never technically homeless... [deep breath]... ok, here goes... I was a kid who, in a nutshell, lost her mother to cancer and her father to a seedy bar on the other side of town, and was basically left to fend for herself.

So... there are no words, none whatsoever, to describe my emotions as Michael sat in that dingy laundromat, unable to escape the fact that he belonged nowhere and to nobody. The most suitable word I can find to fit is heartbroken... I was truly heartbroken watching that scene, because for four years I felt the same waves of palpable despair, uncertainty and loneliness that he must have felt... I was submerged in those waves more times than I care to think about now.

And then Leigh Anne Touhy meets Michael for the first time, on a chilly Thanksgiving Eve. It was a no-nonsense exchange, almost a confrontation, where she looks up—WAY up—at him and says: "Don't you lie to me, now... do you have somewhere to sleep tonight?" Michael shakes his head and Leigh Anne, who wasn't going to stand for that, extends her arm and simply replies: "All right, then. Come on."

The compassion was automatic, the altruism borderline impulsive... I mean honestly, how crazy is that? Crazy enough to forever change the trajectory of five people's lives and, in turn, create a bona-fide miracle borne from human kindness.

And what would the impact be if each of us exercised benevolence with the same audacity and recklessness, even if it was only one time in our whole lives?

That, my friends, is what this movie is about.

The Touhys extended their arms, their home and their hearts, but I'll let you in on what the Touhys really did: They took Michael by the hand, led him to a clean, shiny door—one that led to the opportunity to live a better life—stood with him on the threshold and, with big grins on their faces, said: "Go ahead... open it!"

When the life you've been living is one of sorrow and hopelessness—one with very little chance that you'll escape it alive and intact, much less happy and well-adjusted—there is simply no greater gift you'll ever receive than that door. You can trust me on that one... because Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy were beaten to the punch by Bob and Carla Dirk.

In March of 1981, my father finally drank himself into an early grave and left behind the tattered remains of his life, including his three children. For a few months my sisters and I were bounced around to relatives, all of whom bickered over who was going to be saddled with raising us (nobody wanted the job). And then, on July 1, 1981, Bob and Carla scooped up my sisters and me, drove us across the country to their home, and parked us in front of our own clean, shiny new door.

Nearly 30 years later, it still astounds me to know that Michael Oher's miracle happened to me, too.

My mother and I have discussed this several times over the years; I've tried to get her to confess how difficult it really must have been—that she and my dad surely must have had buyer's remorse at some point. Seriously, how gonzo do you have to be not to second-guess adopting an unruly 11-year-old and her six-year-old twin sisters?? Her answer has always been the same:

"Well... it was a pretty simple decision, really. We just knew it was the right thing to do... which was confirmed by how easily it all fell into place. We couldn't imagine our lives any other way, and wouldn't want to."

Certifiably Insane, table for two? Right this way, please, inside the padded cell. Enjoy.

On this chilly Thanksgiving Eve, I am overwhelmed by the blessing of good health; by the love I feel from my Savior, my husband, my son, my family and my dearest friends; by the satisfaction of a career that I thoroughly enjoy, and that affords me to live in circumstances I would've never dreamed possible as a child. There are a grundle of other tender mercies too extensive to name here... but what you need to know is that I wouldn't have any of them, not a single one, without the two items permanently engraved at the top of my List of Things I Am Grateful For Beyond Any Rational and/or Describable Level:

Charity-deranged parents, and a shiny new door.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.


40 Years of Serious "Street" Cred

This year I am turning 40. As in FOUR-OH MY HELL HOW IS IT THAT I'M THIS OLD ALREADY???

But that's another post for another time... sometime in the next 34 days.

In the meantime, I will share this: In an effort to distract myself from the realization that my life is half over, I've made a game out of finding other people/cool events/monumental stuff that turns 40 this year as well. The entire list will appear in the aforementioned "different post"... but there was no way I could let today go by without paying giddy, giggly homage to what is BY FAR the absolute best thing I share my birthday year with.

Happy birthday to SESAME STREET, which aired its first episode exactly 40 years ago today!

How can I express my gratitude to Maria for teaching me how to count to 10 in Spanish? How can I show my appreciation to the silhouettes that taught me how to sound out words? How can I ever thank Grover for helping me channel my inner superhero?

Today I give mad props to a show that instilled in me an early love of letters and words, a love that continues to this day... a show that taught me kindness matters most (remember the seventh son of the Alligator King?)... a show where I learned that bakers are clumsy, pinball is awesome, and grouches are sometimes nice...

Today, with enough nostalgia to choke an imaginary woolly mammoth, I pay happy tribute to a show that taught me how to count -- and, more importantly, taught me that everyone counts in this world, no matter what color they are, where they're from or if they're different than I am.

Below are one... two... (count with me)... three... four... five of my favorite Sesame Street clips... my way of showing love for the peeps from the ultimate 'hood. Long live Big Bird, Bert & Ernie and the gang -- nobody has more "Street" cred in my book!

Clip#1: OneTwoThreeFourFive, SixSevenEightNineTen, ElevenTwelve!!
Pinball, groovy song and counting... you know you're diggin' it.

These aliens, a.k.a. the Yip Yips, have always cracked me up. Even now there are times that I have to suppress a giggle when the phone rings, because I often think of the Yip Yips hovering over that rotary phone, blurting: BRRRRRRRIIIIINGGG! One of the funniest segments on SS for me... yipyipyipyipyip!!

Clip #3: The first rave ever, brought to you by SOME, ALL and NONE
My boss and good friend Matt reminded me of this one and, after watching it a few times, I decided it was definitely postworthy. A super-silly-yet-simple way to teach some, none and then all, where the scene takes on a rave-like vibe. A muppet rave? Dude, I'm ALL over that!

Clip #4: Oh, that adorable John-John
He was and still is my favorite little non-muppet. Here's John-John helping Bert work through some of his feelings... and when he shows us his happy face, I just wanna put some sugar on those cheeks and eat 'em!

Clip #5: The Alligator King
This SS cartoon is the one I remember most vividly... the images, and the moral of the story, have always just stuck with me.

This post was brought to you by the letter K... and the number 40. :)


The Artful Rogers

Last week my mom and I headed to Seattle for a couple of days to see my 11-year-old nephew, Jack Rogers, perform his first lead role in a musical. This is actually his fourth musical in as many years, but the first time he's landed the lead role... and we all knew it was only a matter of time.

By the time Jack was two, he was the best actor in the family (and believe me, he's got some pretty stiff competition). By the time he was four, he could sing... and I mean SING. Like, perfectly-on-pitch-not-a-note-out-of-place-Simon-Cowell-can-SUCK-IT sing. Right then and there I started socking away money for airfare to New York because, when Jack makes his Broadway debut, you can be sure I'll be watching it from fifth-row center.

So Jack landed the role of Oliver in Oliver, which is super cool... but the story gets even cooler.

My twin sisters, Christine (Jack's mom) and Candie, were the performers of the family growing up. They were always singing and dancing and making up little routines... and they were twins to boot, which cranked up the Adorable Factor off the charts. Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time my mom made them sing "Babyface" or a Buddy Holly song, I would be typing this on my solid gold computer while barking orders to the butler, the governess and the chef in my winter home on Maui.

Anyhoo... when the twins were eight years old they appeared in their first musical... which, as it turns out, was Oliver. Kind of a full-circle moment, right?


Right before the musical opened, one of the women in the adult chorus had to quit the show. Christine attended every rehearsal with Jack, so she knew all the songs, the blocking, the choreography... and the director asked her if she would step in and join the cast. Of course she was thrilled!

THAT made it a full-circle moment... Christine reprising her role while Jack made his mark in the lead role. And my mom and I sat and watched with pride and joy as this full-circle moment unfolded, scene after scene.

I reveled in Jack's spot-on Cockney accent, and bristled every time adults pushed and shoved him around, which was quite a bit. (Yeah, I knew it wasn't real, but still... keep your mangy paws off him!) I watched him link arms with the Artful Dodger and sashay across the stage belting out "Consider yourself... at home!" I watched my sister sing and dance with as much effervescence as she had when she was eight. I watched mother and son exchange quick, smiling glances whenever they crossed one another on stage.

Best of all, I watched my nephew stand on that stage all by himself and sing his big solo, "Where is Love." The bravery! The innocence! The talent radiating from this smart, quirky kid like a full-tilt high beam! My mom cried, and I stared at Jack the whole time thinking to myself:

"Ladies and gentlemen, that is one damn fine singing orphan."

Unlike Oliver, at that moment I knew exactly where love was: In a hundred-year-old theater house in Everett, Washington, watching the people I love doing something they love... and KILLING IT.

Bravo, Artful Rogers! Bravo!

Christine, Mom, Me & Oliver... I mean, Jack :)